What’s sargassum? The large blob of seaweed hitting Florida

Nice information for followers of seaweed that collects on seashores in colossal heaps, and stings folks’s eyes, nostrils, and throats with a stench like rotten eggs(Opens in a brand new tab): mass portions of the algae often called sargassum are as soon as once more accumulating on Florida’s shorelines. And there is cause to suspect that human-caused environmental havoc could also be in charge.

Actually, in reside views of Florida’s 2023 spring break festivities, you may watch the sargassum pile up in actual time. Beneath, you may see a part of a miles-long streak of sargassum operating down Fort Lauderdale Seashore. Should you tune into this livecam early within the morning, you may watch attendants drive farm tools over it, apparently to interrupt it up and make it extra manageable, since there’s clearly an excessive amount of to take away.

Sure, these sargassum accumulations are new

This did not used to occur.

Traditionally, sargassum was identified to drift in big brown rafts in a piece of the North Atlantic named the Sargasso Sea in honor of sargassum. Sargassum beds are established and numerous ecosystems, and so they’re dwelling to (in case you’ll excuse my editorializing) essentially the most underrated predator within the ocean when it comes to sheer viciousness: the sargassum fish.

However in response to a 2015 report(Opens in a brand new tab) by Jeffrey Schell, Deborah Goodwin, and Amy Siuda printed within the journal Oceanography, waters during which sargassum had not beforehand been dominant had been, all of sudden, producing gobs of the stuff. It was all of a sudden piling up as excessive as a meter deep on sections of shoreline — together with vacationer seashores — within the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, in addition to on the coasts of West Africa and Brazil.


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“We seen the seaweed seemed totally different from the Sargassum fluitans or S. natans with which we had been acquainted from 20 years of crusing within the Sargasso Sea, the Caribbean, and Florida Straits,” the report stated. In different phrases, this seemed to be an unprecedented accumulation of an unprecedented kind of sargassum.

Humanity’s ecological havoc could play a job in sargassum accumulation

Additional examine is required earlier than anybody can say with confidence precisely what’s inflicting this apparently new phenomenon, however scientists are on the case.

Oceanographers now know from learning satellite tv for pc views that this sargassum comes not from the Sargasso Sea, however from additional south: a patchy stripe the width of a complete part of the ocean dubbed the Nice Atlantic Sargassum Belt. In 2018 oceanographers defined to The Atlantic‘s Ed Yong(Opens in a brand new tab) that the belt appear to attract on river outflows in Brazil and West Africa that dump agricultural fertilizer into the ocean. This in flip could have supercharged seaweed development, reworking occasional patchy collections of sargassum into the massive, self-perpetuating seaweed monster we now have right this moment.

Eckerd Faculty oceanographer Amy Siuda instructed Yong this state of affairs “is probably going the brand new regular.”

Sargassum is a rising downside

NASA satellite tv for pc photographs present larger and larger blooms, with an rising variety of record-breaking years since 2011(Opens in a brand new tab). Final June, over 24 million tons of sargassum(Opens in a brand new tab) materialized within the Atlantic, which broke the earlier file set in 2018. College of South Florida oceanographer Brian Barnes instructed the South Florida NBC information affiliate(Opens in a brand new tab) that 2023 seems like one other monster yr. “We’ve noticed over the past a number of months that the bloom is getting larger. It’s probably be as massive as or if not larger than the bloom that we noticed final yr,” he stated.

Oh, and that rotten egg scent comes from hydrogen sulfide, which, well being officers instructed the native information in Florida(Opens in a brand new tab), can do extra than simply sting folks’s eyes and noses. An excessive amount of publicity could cause “complications, poor reminiscence, tiredness and steadiness issues.”

And whereas some sargassum(Opens in a brand new tab) is understood to be eaten by people, in response to the Florida Division of Well being(Opens in a brand new tab) nobody has any enterprise consuming this sargassum, “as a result of it might comprise giant quantities of heavy metals like arsenic and cadmium.”

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