Huge 8,000 km wide seaweed swarm looms over Florida

(ORDO NEWS) — A giant mass of algae from the Atlantic Ocean is making its way to the shores of Florida and other coastlines across the Gulf of Mexico, threatening to pile up stinky and potentially dangerous heaps on beaches and severely ruin the tourist season.

Algae , a species called sargassum, have long formed large swarms in the Atlantic, and scientists have been tracking their mass swarms since 2011.

But this year’s Sargassum mass may be the largest on record, stretching over 5,000 miles from the coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico.

The clot is currently moving west and will pass through the Caribbean in the summer and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Seaweed is expected to appear on Florida beaches around July, according to Dr. Brian Lapointe, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

Lapointe said Sargassum blooms started early this year and doubled in size between December and January.

In January, the mass “was greater than at any time since the growth of this new Sargasso region began in 2011,” LaPointe told CNN‘s Rosemary Church.

“This is a completely new oceanographic phenomenon that creates such a problem, a really catastrophic problem for tourism in the Caribbean, where they accumulate on beaches up to five or six feet deep,” added Lapointe.

He noted that in Barbados, locals use “1,600 dump trucks a day to clear the beaches of this algae to make it suitable for tourists and beach recreation.”

What is sargassum

Sargassum is a catch-all term that can be used to refer to over 300 kelp species, although Sargassum natans and Sargassum fluitans are the two species most commonly found in the Atlantic.

Algae has its own benefits when drifting in the sea.

“This floating habitat provides food and protection for fish, mammals, seabirds, crabs and more,” the Sargassum Information Center website says.

“It serves as an important habitat for the endangered loggerhead sea turtle and a habitat for many commercially important fish.”

Problems arise when sargassum finds its way onto beaches, not only accumulating in hills that are physically difficult to navigate, but also releasing a corrosive gas. And it can quickly turn from useful to a threat to life in the ocean.

“It comes in in such large quantities that it practically sucks the oxygen out of the water and creates what we call dead zones,” Lapointe said.

“Usually these are nursery fish habitats … and as soon as they are deprived of oxygen, we lose that habitat.”

According to Lapointe, sargassum can also be hazardous to human health. The gas given off by rotting algae, hydrogen sulfide, is toxic and can cause breathing problems.


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