This year’s Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt algal bloom is one of the largest on record.
The 5,000-mile mass of seaweed threatens wildlife, infrastructure and the tourism industry.
The smell of rotting stranded sargassum is causing a problem for tourism in both Mexico and Florida.
A giant slick of seaweed stretching 5,000 miles is set to cause problems on the beaches of Florida and Mexico as scientists grow concerned about the algae’s impact.
The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt is a giant brown algal bloom that stretches from the coast of West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the world’s largest algal bloom – weighing about 20 million tons – and visible from space.
Algae are usually fairly harmless and have benefits such as providing habitat for fish and absorbing carbon dioxide. But the sargassum, which stretches twice the width of the United States, could wreak havoc on beaches if ocean currents push it ashore.
While the aftermath of the Sargassum Belt has worried scientists for the past decade, experts say this year’s bloom is particularly alarming, according to a report by Denise Chow for NBC News, published Saturday.
“It’s incredible,” Brian LaPointe, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, told NBC News. “What we’re seeing on the satellite images doesn’t bode well for a clean beach year.”
LaPointe, who has studied sargassum for four decades, told the news agency that Key West beaches are already covered in seaweed, although the piles typically wash ashore in May. Beaches in Mexico — like those in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum — are also preparing for a large gathering of sargassum this week.
The mass of algae is growing every year — with record-breaking increases in 2018 and 2022, Brian Barnes, an assistant professor of research at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science, told NBC News. This year is approaching those records, he said.
The negative effects of the algal mass are many – according to Sky News, it can destroy coastal ecosystems, suffocate corals, harm wildlife, threaten infrastructure and reduce air and water quality.
A 2019 study suggested that deforestation and fertilizer use could be responsible for the alarming rate at which mass is growing – the effects of which are being exacerbated by climate change.
“I think I’ve replaced my fear of climate change with sargassum fear,” Seaweed Generation CEO Patricia Estridge told The Guardian.
Additionally, as stranded sargassum dies and rots, it has a “distinct rotten egg odor,” Insiders previously reported, which has caused a major problem for tourism in Mexico and Florida.
Hotels and resorts in Mexico, for example, spend millions every year getting rid of sargassum beaches and hire workers to collect it and move it to another location.
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