Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches are on alert with a 5,000-mile-long seaweed bloom headed that way.
The sargassum bloom is one of the largest ever recorded and is easily visible from space. It is a naturally occurring seaweed bloom that forms off the (west) Atlantic coast of Africa and travels through the Caribbean to Florida and Mexico.
In recent years, the size of the sargassum blooms has created major problems for the tourism industry. Particularly in Mexico where the sargassum has nowhere left to go and often winds up on the beaches.
Once sargassum piles up on the beaches it emits a foul sulfurous smell as it begins to rot. The beaches are covered in thousands of pounds of this stuff that sometimes has to be removed by heavy machinery.
An NBC News report on the massive sargassum bloom headed toward the Gulf of Mexico says it can “wreak havoc on coastal ecosystems and diminish water and air quality as it rots.”
Dangers of Sargassum Seaweed Headed To Florida
A local WFLA report notes that the timing for Florida is particularly bad. Southwest Florida is already getting pummeled by a Red Tide (algae) bloom that is causing a massive fish kill.
Florida’s Gulf coast is already grappling with an algae bloom amid the busy spring break tourism season. Red tide has caused dead fish to wash ashore in droves, while the risk of respiratory irritation for humans has cancelled events and driven beachgoers away.
With a blanket of sargassum approaching, spanning twice the width of the continental U.S., scientists warn that Florida beaches could soon be inundated with seaweed.
“It’s incredible,” Brian LaPointe, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute told NBC News. “What we’re seeing in the satellite imagery does not bode well for a clean beach year.”
The WFLA report goes on to list other potential disastrous impacts from this massive sargassum bloom that can be seen from space. Marine Science professor Brian Barnes told them “it can block intake valves for things like power plants or desalination plants, marinas can get completely inundated and boats can’t navigate through.”
The rotting sargassum can cause respiratory issues at a time when Southwest Floridians on the coast are already struggling with respiratory issues caused by Red Tide.
Here is a look at how bad the sargassum buildup has gotten in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in recent years:
The ‘raft’ of sargassum seaweed is said to be growing year over year. 2018 and 2020 were the largest recorded years and this year’s bloom appears to be just as large if not larger.