That 5,000 mile wide seaweed blob will likely miss us

The actual name of a massive seaweed blob floating toward Florida is technically called a sargassum bloom, and it is normal and even essential for some ocean species. But it is a real pain when it washes ashore or gums up boat props. Decomposing sargassum can create a foul smell when it starts to decompose along the beaches. As it rots, it gives off a substance called hydrogen sulfide, creating an odor akin to rotten eggs.

The brown seaweed that floats in the ocean and is washes up on Florida beaches in large amounts provides an important habitat for migratory organisms – including crab, shrimp, sea turtles, and commercially important fish species such as tuna and marlin, according to Florida Health.

Sargassum abundance in the Central Atlantic decreased overall from January to February, but substantial quantities in the Caribbean Sea continued to accumulate. In March, we expect Sargassum abundance increases in both the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. For example, this is an image from Mexico.

“In Key West, a beach already saw a large amount of sargassum a week ago. That’s pretty early,” USF’s Dr. Chuanmin Hu said.

Another bloom double the width of the United States is now only about 100 miles from Collier County, Florida.

“Algae are OK, as long as they don’t get too bad; they affect the aesthetics and our health,” said Barry Rosen, a Florida Gulf Coast University Water School professor.

While the seaweed blob will not likely make it to the Gulfport, or other Pinellas beaches, the Gulf Coast is already dealing with a flare-up of the toxic red tide algae with residents are complaining about burning eyes and breathing problems.

Dead fish have washed up on beaches and a beachside festival has been canceled, even though it wasn’t scheduled for another month.

Communities that do take on seaweed must clean it up immediately, or it can literally suffocate wildlife.

“If you have a turtle, or a turtle nest on the beach, you have a huge thick blanket on the turtle nests, the young turtles will have a hard time surviving,” Hu said.

Just like red tide, there may need to be emergency measures put in place to fight the pileup. In other areas like Miami, local governments have hauled it away or buried it under the sand so it can naturally decompose.


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