What is sargassum? Giant seaweed mass hits Florida

Good news for lovers of seaweed, which gathers on beaches in enormous heaps People’s eyes, nostrils, and throats stung with a stench like rotten eggs(Opens in a new tab)Large amounts of algae known as sargassum are once again piling up on Florida beaches. And there is reason to suspect that human-caused environmental devastation may be the cause.

In fact, in live views of the 2023 Florida Spring Break festivities, you can watch the sargassum build up in real time. Below, you can see a section of a miles-long line of sargassum that runs down Fort Lauderdale Beach. If you set this live cam up early in the morning, you can watch the attendants drive farm equipment over it, apparently to take it apart and make it more manageable, since there’s clearly a lot to remove.

Yes, sargassum accumulations are new

This was not happening.

Historically, Sargassums have been known to float in giant brown rafts in a part of the North Atlantic called the Sargasso Sea in Sargasso’s honor. Sargassum beds have created diverse ecosystems, and are home to (if you’ll allow my editorial sanity) the ocean’s most underrated predator in terms of sheer savagery: the sargassum fish.

But according to 2015 a report(Opens in a new tab) By Jeffrey Schell, Deborah Goodwin, and Amy Siuda Published in Journal Oceanography, the waters in which Sargassum had not previously been dominant, produced at once lumps of matter. It was suddenly accumulating up to a meter high on parts of the coast – including tourist beaches – in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, as well as on the coasts of West Africa and Brazil.

“We noticed that the seaweed looked different from the Sargassum fluitans or S. natans we were familiar with from 20 years of cruising the Sargasso Sea, the Caribbean Sea and the Florida Straits,” the report said. In other words, this appears to be an unprecedented accumulation of an unprecedented species of sargassum.

Humankind’s ecological devastation may play a role in sargassum buildup

More study is needed before anyone can say with confidence what causes this apparently new phenomenon, but scientists are studying the issue.

Oceanographers now know from studying satellite views that this sargassum does not come from the Sargasso Sea, but from farther south: an incomplete strip the width of an entire section of ocean called the Atlantic Great Sargassum Belt. In 2018 Oceanographers explained to Atlantic OceanEd Young(Opens in a new tab) The belt seems to depend on the outflows of rivers in Brazil and West Africa that dump agricultural fertilizers into the ocean. This, in turn, may have led to an overgrowth of seaweed, turning patchy populations of sargassum into the gigantic, self-perpetuating seaweed monster we have today.

This situation “is likely to be the new normal,” Ami Siuda, an oceanographer at Eckerd College, told Young.

Sargassum is a growing problem

NASA satellite images show bigger and bigger blooms, with an increasing number of record-breaking years Since 2011(Opens in a new tab). last june, More than 24 million tons of sargassum(Opens in a new tab) It materializes in the Atlantic Ocean, which broke the previous record set in 2018. University of South Florida oceanographer Brian Barnes He told NBC’s South Florida News affiliate(Opens in a new tab) That 2023 looks like another monster year. “We’ve noticed over the past several months that the blooms are getting larger. It’s likely to be as big as, if not larger than, the blooms we saw last year,” he said.

Oh, and that rotten egg smell comes from hydrogen sulfide, health officials On the local news in Florida(Opens in a new tab)It can do more than just sting people’s eyes and noses. Overexposure can cause “headaches, poor memory, fatigue, and balance problems.”

And while some sargassum(Opens in a new tab) It is known that humans eat it, According to the Florida Department of Health(Opens in a new tab) Nobody has any business eating this Sargassum, “because it may contain significant amounts of heavy metals such as arsenic and cadmium.”

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