A massive “blob,” or sargassum bloom, has grown in size and stands to engulf both of Florida’s coasts. Thus, this bloom, twice the width of the United States, could very well threaten numerous Florida beach vacation destinations in 2023.
The Sargasso Sea is a vast patch of ocean named for a genus of free-floating seaweed called Sargassum (via NOAA).
Let’s look at what it is and how it may negatively impact summer vacations in Florida.
What is Sargassum?
What is Sargassum, you ask? Sargassum — a genus of free-floating seaweed — has long formed large blooms across the Atlantic Ocean. Scientists have been tracking growing accumulations since 2011.
However, 2023’s bloom may be the biggest ever, covering 5,000 miles (8,047 kilometers) of ocean from the African Coast to the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the brown seaweed is already washing up along Florida beaches from Key West to Fort Lauderdale.
Is Sargassum Safe to Swim In?
Sargassum provides a home to a huge variety of marine species. Turtles use sargassum mats as nurseries that provide food and shelter to their youngsters.
Sargassum also provides essential habitat for shellfish, fish, and other marine species that have adapted specifically to these floating algae. So, you can be sure it’s not poisonous or noxious.
Brian LaPointe is a Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute research professor in Fort Pierce, Florida.
He says, “You can swim in the water if there’s sargassum and people do, but I have seen some reports of sea lice associated with sargassum in water with big mats of it floating around,” referencing small jellyfish larvae, which causes the skin to erupt in a red, itchy rash, reports Afar Magazine.
How Will Red Tide Interact with Sargassum?
Florida is no stranger to sargassum and this year it’s going to get hit hard. The sargassum bloom’s target zone stretches along the Gulf of Mexico — from Florida’s panhandle, west into Texas, and Southeast Florida, from the Florida Keys northwest to around Fort Pierce, says Barnes.
More than 24 million tons of sargassum reportedly blanketed the Atlantic in the month of June alone in 2022. That was up from 18.8 million tons in May of that year, a monthly report published by the University of South Florida’s Optical Oceanography Lab revealed.
Barry Rosen, an aquatic biologist at Florida Gulf Coast University’s The Water School said “sargassum has properties that can overwhelm red tide blooms like the ones plaguing Southwest Florida’s coasts for months” (via WGCU).
However, though the bloom has the capacity to kill red tide, it is probably reliant on the right conditions. Be sure to heed all the beach warning flags if you choose to swim in the ocean in Florida.
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