An enormous carpet of seaweed stretching 5,000 miles (8,047 kilometers) is set to cause problems along the beaches of Florida and Mexico as scientists become increasingly concerned about the impacts of the algae.
The “Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt” is a massive bloom of brown algae that stretches from the coast of West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. It is the largest seaweed bloom in the world – weighing approximately 20 million tons – and is visible from outer space.
Seaweed is usually fairly innocuous and has benefits like providing habitats for fish and absorbing carbon dioxide. But the sargassum spanning about twice the width of the US could wreak havoc on beaches as ocean currents push it towards land.
While the consequences of the Sargassum Belt have concerned scientists for the past decade, experts say this year’s bloom is particularly alarming, according to reporting 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 in the satellite imagery does not bode well for a clean beach year.”
LaPointe, who has studied sargassum for four decades, told the news outlet that beaches in Key West are already being covered with the algae, despite the piles usually washing ashore in May. Beaches in Mexico – like in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum – are also preparing for a large build-up of sargassum this week.
The size of the mass of seaweed is growing each year – with 2018 and 2022 having record-breaking increases, Brian Barnes, an assistant research professor at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science, told NBC News. This year is approaching these records, he said.
The negative effects of the mass of algae are manifold – it can destroy coastal ecosystems, suffocate coral, harm wildlife, threaten infrastructure, and decrease air and water quality, according to Sky News.
One study in 2019 suggested that deforestation and fertilizer use may be responsible for the alarming rate at which the mass is growing – the effects of which are all exacerbated by climate change.
“I think I’ve replaced my climate change anxiety with sargassum anxiety,” Patricia Estridge, CEO of Seaweed Generation, told The Guardian.
Furthermore, as beached sargassum dies and rots, it has a “distinct rotten-egg smell,” Insider previously reported, which has caused a huge problem for tourism in both Mexico and Florida.
Hotels and resorts in Mexico, for example, spend millions each year to get rid of beaches of sargassum, hiring workers to collect it and move it elsewhere.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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