Stinky seaweed plagues Florida beaches

 Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Florida beachgoers can rejoice as the stinky seaweed problem that plagued the state’s iconic beaches this spring has significantly decreased. The Great Atlantic Sargassum Seaweed Belt, which emitted a foul odour reminiscent of rotten eggs and released toxic gases upon reaching the shore, has shrunk by 75% in the Gulf of Mexico, according to scientists from the University of South Florida’s Optical Oceanography Lab.

During April, the seaweed reached a record-breaking level with scientists identifying 3 million tons of sargassum in the Caribbean Sea. However, last month’s decrease in the Gulf of Mexico exceeded expectations, with very little sargassum found along Florida’s east coast and the Straits of Florida.

Chuanmin Hu, a professor of optical oceanography, stated that such a drastic decrease at this time of year has never occurred in history. Typically, sargassum in Florida starts declining in July and is mostly gone by September. However, Hu predicts that the sargassum season for Florida is likely over for this year.

The seaweed that lands on Florida beaches originates from the Gulf of Mexico and the western Caribbean, but those source regions are also experiencing minimal sargassum. Although small amounts of the seaweed may still wash up on Florida beaches, they are not expected to present significant problems.

The reasons for the decrease in sargassum are complex and influenced by factors such as changes in nutrients, rainfall, and wind conditions. Speculations point to stronger-than-average winds in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, which may have caused the sargassum to dissipate into smaller clumps or sink to the ocean floor.

While Florida celebrates clean beaches, the eastern Caribbean is likely to continue experiencing significant amounts of sargassum. In June, the seaweed was primarily found around the Lesser Antilles and along the southern coasts of Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico.

Sargassum, a type of brown algae consisting of over 300 species, forms annual blooms in the Atlantic Ocean. In its oceanic habitat, it serves as a food source and habitat for various marine organisms. However, when it accumulates on beaches, it poses problems for humans and other species. The decaying seaweed releases hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas that can cause respiratory issues. It also contains arsenic, making it hazardous to ingest or use as fertilizer.

Large accumulations of sargassum can create “dead zones” by depleting oxygen levels and destroying nursery habitats for fisheries. Removing the seaweed is a challenging task that can cost millions of dollars, and efforts to remove it must be careful to avoid harming sea turtle eggs.

The decrease in the mass of stinky seaweed is good news for Florida residents and tourists, allowing them to enjoy cleaner and more pleasant beach experiences.

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