Seaweed Blob Off Florida One of the Biggest Ever

Sargassum may make beach visits on the Gulf coast smelly in the next few months
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 14, 2023 1:33 PM CDT
Scientists Tracking Huge Seaweed Blob Off Florida
Lakes Beach is covered in sargassum in St. Andrew along the east coast of Barbados, Wednesday, July 27, 2022.   (AP Photo/Kofi Jones)

Scientists are keeping an eye on a massive brown blob of seaweed threatening to make beach-going along the Gulf of Mexico miserable once it comes ashore. As dire as that sounds, sargassum blooms are not a new phenomenon, reports WFLA—but at 5,000 miles wide, this might be one of the largest blooms ever observed. According to the New York Times, even a huge growth such as this isn't usually a problem. But this year, it will begin to rot in the summer heat once it washes ashore in Florida and elsewhere, releasing fumes that could make a day at the beach extremely unpleasant and hurt tourism.

Sargassum blooms can be beneficial to sea life, the Times notes, providing a kind of shady, sheltering underwater forest. But once on land and in a state of decay, the seaweed causes damage to mangrove forests found along coastlines and estuaries in temperate regions. As it dies, the seaweed gives off the noxious, rotten-egg odor of hydrogen sulfide, which can be dangerous to anyone with respiratory issues. This might be a double-whammy for Florida. As WFLA reports, Florida’s Gulf coast is already coping with an algae bloom causing a red tide and washing dead fish ashore just as the state is closing in on the peak of its lucrative spring break season.

Since marine scientists first noted unusual sargassum growth in 2011, the University of South Florida has run SaWS, a satellite-based "Sargassum Watch System." In 2018, the university began publishing "Sargassum Outlook" bulletins. The notice published on March 1 this year states that 2023's seaweed blob will actually not be "as large as previously feared," but "2023 will still be a major Sargassum year." (More seaweed stories.)

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