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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Huge blobs of seaweed smelling like “rotten eggs” could cover Florida’s beaches

A massive 5,000-mile-wide blob of rotten-egg-smelling seaweed is floating in the Atlantic and will stink Florida’s beaches, says a geoscientist and coastal ecologist, and is a “huge problem”.

The seaweed known as sargassum isn’t just a nuisance that needs to be removed.

“People hate the smell. It’s like rotten eggs,” said Stephen Leatherman, also known as “Dr. Beach” is known news week. “You know how rotten eggs smell. Because it’s not just the algae itself, but there are also small pieces, small crabs are in there, small fish get caught. It is a natural ecosystem in its own way. But all that stuff gets stranded and it rots and stinks.”

Leatherman said this is a major problem for Florida because it deters visitors and is expensive to evict. The huge mass of Sargassum is likely to hit Florida’s beaches when the tourism season kicks off.

“The beaches are narrow and not very wide, so they just get covered up,” Leatherman continued. “A few years ago it was so bad in Cancun that 2,000 Marines had to go there with pitchforks and other tools to clean the beach so they could see the sand,” Leatherman said.

The smell is not the only problem that the seaweed brings.

When Sargassum washes ashore, it begins to decompose. When this process begins, it results in the release of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia gas emissions. This can actually cause problems for people with sensitive airways and conditions like asthma. It can also cause broader environmental problems.

It’s unlikely to pose any serious danger to humans, but it could be a sign that worse things are to come if it continues to get worse.

Sargassum isn’t new — experts have been tracking the blobs for over a decade. In fact, it happens naturally that they occur in the ocean. But certain factors have made it worse in recent years, causing it to grow larger.

“It’s really far beyond what we’ve seen in the past,” Leatherman said. “It’s all happened in the last ten years or so. And I think there are a number of reasons for that. One is what is happening in the Amazon.”

He continued: “The Amazon is being deforested to create more arable land and improve agriculture in Brazil. But if you do, you need to add fertilizer, and lots of it. Unfortunately, it ends up in the Amazon, which is one of the largest rivers in the world and pushes its water far out into the ocean. And that’s where it meets the Sargassum Belt, and then it multiplies billions of times over days or over time. And so I think one of the big problems is that we’re getting so much more of that in the Caribbean, in South Florida, and in the South Atlantic.”

African dust is also a factor. Saharan dust clouds, which stretch for miles across the ocean, can also contribute to the formation of sargassum.

The dust contains nitrogen and phosphorus, all of which help fertilize the algal bloom.

“The other thing, of course, is that the Earth is warming and really feeding on warmer waters. So that can be a factor,” Leatherman said.

He continued, “It’s a big problem for South Florida because it’s very expensive. It keeps visitors from coming. They do not like it. They don’t like being in the water or swimming with it. There has always been a small amount of water in there and it has always been handled, but now huge amounts of it show up every mile or more. Now it’s even worse in the Caribbean, as in some of the smaller islands like Barbados, which depend almost entirely on tourism. And the beaches are covered and who will visit these beaches?

“I was in the British Virgin Islands a few years ago and measured about 5ft at the top of the sand. 5 feet. And the beach wasn’t very wide and completely covered,” he said.

The “only good thing” about Sargassum is that it’s not as dangerous as Red Tide, Leatherman said. Red tide is a harmful algal bloom that produces toxins. It can be extremely harmful to wildlife. A red tide was recently detected in Florida and many fish have died as a result.

Sargassum is not the same. Although it can smell and affect breathing problems, it isn’t toxic like Red Tide.

“It doesn’t really kill a lot of fish. A few, but it can actually kill turtles if the mass is so great that turtles need to take a breath every 20 minutes or so. They go under, these huge masses that can go like a mile in the worst areas. Then some turtles actually drowned under them. But that’s pretty rare,” Leatherman said.

The bottom line is that sargassum algae has always existed on beaches.
In fact, Christopher Columbus thought the giant floating mats were land before arriving in the Bahamas. But the problem keeps getting worse.

“It’s natural. But now nature is starting to get out of hand,” Leatherman said.

Do you have an animal or natural story to tell? news week? Have a question about Sargassum? Let us know at nature@latestpagenews.com.

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