If you’ve ever headed offshore in search of dolphin under patches or lines of sargassum weed, you know the weed can be difficult to find at times. That seems to happen every time I fish a dolphin tournament at least! But all that may soon change.
Sargassum, an algae that’s commonly mislabeled as a “weed,” is headed toward the U.S. in a line stretching over 5,000 miles. The leading edge of that line has reportedly reached the Caribbean and the Virgin Islands, and some has reached as far as Mexico.
Sargassum in the Past
An estimated 200 tons of sargassum washed up on beaches along the Yucatán Peninsula earlier this month, wreaking havoc on beach communities heavily dependent on tourism. And these “blooms” have ample precedent. Last year, record sargassum levels led the U.S. Virgin Islands to declare a state of emergency and request assistance from FEMA to handle the mass of weed.
A desalination plant on St. Croix became so clogged with weed that electrical generation became threatened, and in Barbados, local governments employed 1,600 dump trucks a day during the peak season to clean the beaches for tourists.
Sargassum and Its Consequences
So what will happen if it comes here? First and foremost, it could cause a big mess, closing Florida beaches, but environmentally, it could also harm reef systems. In huge quantities, sargassum blocks out sunlight, and it can suck the oxygen out of the water and create anaerobic dead zones temporarily.
Sargassum can also be dangerous to human health because as the weed rots on the beach, it releases toxic hydrogen sulfide gas, which can cause respiratory problems. It also contains arsenic, making it dangerous if ingested or used for fertilizer. And of course, it will cost millions of dollars to clean it up.
The massive line is currently pushing west through the Caribbean toward the Gulf of Mexico and should begin showing up in Florida during the summer, with the seaweed expected to become prevalent on beaches around July. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we could be in for an epic dolphin bite this summer!
Learn more about sargassum by logging onto https://sargassumhub.org/.
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