The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt: A Growing Concern for Beachgoers
As the weather gets warmer and the summer season kicks in, beaches all over the world are gearing up for the peak of the tourist season. However, there’s a new problem that is plaguing some of the most popular beaches in the world—the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt. According to experts, this floating seaweed is inching across the Caribbean and is currently washing up on the eastern coast of Florida far earlier than usual. This has led to growing concerns among scientists and local communities about what the coming months might bring.
The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt is made up of algal species in the genus Sargassum. These species grow as a mat of glops of algae that stay afloat via little air-filled sacs attached to leafy structures. The algae form a belt between the Caribbean and West Africa in the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean and then ride the currents west. While scientists caution that reports of a massive blob of seaweed crashing into coastlines are overblown, the truth is that much of the seaweed will never reach the coast’s sandy shores. However, once the seaweed starts washing up on beaches and rotting, it can cause serious problems for local communities.
In recent years, researchers have generally seen larger so-called Sargassum blooms. Among annual Sargassum censuses in the Atlantic Ocean, “2018 was the record year, and we’ve had several big years since,” says Brian Lapointe, an oceanographer at Florida Atlantic University, who has studied seaweed for decades. “This is the new normal, and we’re going to have to adapt to it.”
The seaweed “blob,” which spans about twice the width of the U.S, has been dubbed the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt. Though it’s sprawling, the algae in the belt cover only about 0.1 percent of the water’s surface, says Chuanmin Hu, an oceanographer at the University of South Florida, who has used satellites to study Sargassum for nearly 20 years. Hu and his colleagues use data collected by NASA satellites, including Terra and Aqua, to estimate the total mass of Sargassum in the Atlantic every month, tracking a yearly cycle that typically peaks in June. Last year the seaweed broke the record for the highest amount ever recorded in the Atlantic, with some 22 million metric tons of the stuff found across the ocean, according to the team’s calculations.
One of the biggest challenges that researchers and local communities face is the fact that when the seaweed reaches the beach, it can cause serious environmental and health issues. When the algae rot and release chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide gas, which smells like rotten eggs, it can cause headaches and irritate a person’s eyes, nose, and throat. People with asthma or other breathing problems may be more sensitive to the effect. The seaweed’s early arrival is raising concerns about what this summer might bring.
In the ocean, Sargassum is crucial habitat for fish and turtles, among other marine life, and thus the belt is a moving ecosystem. The fact remains that even a small portion of the seaweed present in the Atlantic will ever wash up on beaches. However, beaches in Fort Lauderdale and the Florida Keys are already reporting Sargassum deposits this year, Lapointe says.
Hu says that Sargassum amounts can’t be forecast more than two or three months out, so this year’s seasonal peak in the summer is still too distant to predict. Researchers have expected this year might turn out to be heavy in seaweed, however, because even the winter lull saw higher amounts of the stuff than average.
Scientists are working hard to understand and address the problem, but it remains knotty. “This has been going for over 10 years now, and we haven’t made a whole lot of progress in better understanding of all these nutrient and climate drivers,” says Lapointe. “It’s something we’re working on as scientists.”
In conclusion, the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt is a growing concern for beachgoers, and it is critical that experts continue to monitor and research the seaweed to find a solution to this problem. As the new normal sets in, we must adapt to the latest challenges presented by nature and continue to find ways to protect our beaches and marine life.#Heres #Real #Story #Massive #Blob #Seaweed #Heading #Florida