Florida’s First Coast may be particularly nasty this summer. The Atlantic seaweed known as sargassum will be coming ashore and may be particularly plentiful this year.
Latest Update on Seaweed Situation in Florida:
March 17: 5,000-Mile-Long Seaweed Belt Heading To Florida, Mexico, And Dominican Republic
The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt is a massive seaweed belt spanning 5,000 miles and weighing over 11 million tons. Its size is so vast that it is visible from space, stretching from West Africa to the Caribbean and posing a significant threat to coastal waters and beaches. Oceanographer Ajit Subramaniam speaks with John Yang to shed light on the topic.
Dr. Chuanmin Hu, who studies sargassum and works at the University of South Florida, says: “Sargassum peaks in summer, in June in July, there is no exception,” explains Hu. “During winter months they typically stay rather low. But not this year. This January already set a record for all previous January months.”
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He continued by saying that the amount offshore at this time of year is four times what it usually is.
When asked why, Dr. Hu noted, “we don’t know, that is a direct answer”.
In prior years, he said, the culprits were often anything that added nutrients to the ocean’s surface, such as upwelling and mixing.
Dr. Melinda Simmons is a professor of marine sciences at Jacksonville University.
“I wish it was just one thing, but it is a combination of nutrients, and we think those are human sources,” she says. “A lot of it is river runoff. And then also Climate change, as these waters get warmer, and we are not having the reprieve with cold waters. And we sometimes can see these blooms on the trackers in the satellite data stretching from Africa to the Amazon and then up the coast of Florida.”
That’s one-way scientists track sargassum in the ocean and estimate how much there is.
“The sargassum has a very special color tone, that can differentiate itself from the background water, so even if there is a tiny different we can squeeze the signal out,” Hu added.
This allows them to determine how much is in the water.
The biggest concern is that these algae will make Florida’s beaches stink in the spring and summer.
“A record in January does not exactly mean a record in June. What is certain is 2023 will be a major sargassum year,” Hu said.
Is it, however, cause for concern?
Simmons said, “When it starts to break down it starts to release hydrogen sulfide and that can be an irritant for people who have asthma or breathing difficulties.”
She continued, “I think the major issue is it’s unpleasant. Whether you are swimming or wading in it it’s going to smell bad. And then people don’t want to come to the beach.”