The summer months are usually a time for sunshine, beaches, and warm weather in South Florida, but this year, there’s a different kind of forecast making headlines. A giant mass of seaweed called sargassum is floating in the Atlantic Ocean and is expected to make it’s way to Florida shores in the coming months. Sargassum is a type of brown seaweed that grows in large mats in the ocean, and it’s expected to wash up on Florida’s eastern seaboard this summer in significant amounts. The mass is estimated to be 5,000 miles wide and can harbor dangerous marine life such as jellyfish and sea lice.
The sargassum blooms are caused by a combination of factors, including warm water temperatures, nutrient-rich waters, and changes in ocean currents. While the seaweed is a natural occurrence, the volume that’s expected to hit Florida’s coastline this year is causing concern among residents and officials.
One of the biggest concerns is the impact the sargassum could have on Florida’s tourism industry. The state’s beaches are a major draw for visitors, and the presence of large mats of seaweed could deter tourists from coming to the area. Additionally, the seaweed can have a negative impact on marine life, including sea turtles and other species that rely on the beaches for nesting and feeding.
Despite the potential challenges posed by the sargassum, officials are working on solutions to mitigate its impact. This includes increased beach cleaning efforts, the use of specialized equipment to remove the seaweed from the water, and the deployment of booms to keep the seaweed from reaching the shore.
Dr. Brian Barnes is a Professor of Optical Oceanography at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He’s got his eye on the great Atlantic sargassum belt, huge patches of seaweed that drift from Africa to the Caribbean.
This year’ssargassum seaweed bloom is now pushing into the Gulf of Mexico, and the Florida Current is beginning to carry some of the seaweed up through the Florida Straits to the southern part of the Florida peninsula. Barnes doesn’t expect Treasure Coast beaches to see much of it until this summer.
“The Treasure Coast would be at the northern end of areas that would be impacted,” he said, “it still could see some impacts, but likely much later in the year, in July.”
In addition, the impact on the Treasure Coast is likely to be less than areas further south, says Dr. Barnes, because “the Treasure Coast is where the surface currents start to diverge away from the Florida Coast.” The Treasure Coast is “right at the northern edge of where the maximum impacts would be expected.”