Mar 16, 2023
Already facing a toxic red algae bloom on its western coast, Florida is closely watching a gigantic patch of brown seaweed slowly making its way across the Atlantic Ocean toward the state.
The 5,000-mile stretch of sargassum is so big it can be seen from space. It comes from The Sargasso Sea. The Sea is a part of the Atlantic east of the Gulf of Mexico. There, the seaweed is common. In normal years, only a small amount of it escapes to be washed up on US shores. During bloom years, though, that's not the case.
"It’s incredible," a research professor told NBC News. "What we’re seeing in the satellite imagery does not bode well for a clean beach year."
Out in the open ocean, sargassum is a good thing. It’s a food source and habitat for dozens of species. However, when there’s too much of it, sargassum can create problems for humans.
"It can block intake valves for things like power plants or desalination plants, marinas can get completely (filled) and boats can’t navigate through," one scientist said.
It also presents health risks. When tons of sargassum washed up on Caribbean islands in 2018, over 11,000 people reported acute sargassum toxicity. That's a breathing issue that results from the fumes from the huge, rotting piles of seaweed.
Experts say that the current bloom could blanket beaches in mounds of seaweed 3 feet high.
Photo by BrickLightning courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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