If you’re planning a vacation in Florida this summer, you should know that the dreaded sargassum seaweed is having a banner year and it may be a more invasive problem than usual. Beaches may be clogged with it.
The Sargassum seaweed makes its way onto the beaches of Central Florida every year. But something is feeding the annual bloom, and scientists using satellite images say there’s more out in the Atlantic Ocean than ever before.
“What’s amazing is this is usually the downtime, January-ish. And the quantity we saw in January 2023 is larger than what we saw during the peak times of July and August,” said Brian Barnes at the University of South Florida’s optical oceanography department.
The amount of sargassum is growing each month, as it usually does. But what’s different now is that the starting point is so much larger this year. January’s amount is 20% bigger than the previous record.
“All indications are that we will continue to see an increase and see another record bloom,” Barnes said.
Last July, along Central Florida’s beaches, tons and tons of sargassum washed ashore. The annual event is critical to the shoreline ecosystem, but excessive amounts can have a negative impact. It can smother and block out sunlight for shoreline animals and plants but also impact beach tourism during the summer, as people who have paid for a beach vacation are sorely disappointed when they cannot enjoy the sand and surf.
“What we need to do is step back and say, ‘What’s different this year? What causes sargassum to bloom?’” said Kevin Johnson of Florida Tech’s ocean engineering and marine sciences department.
Some studies say more nutrients are flowing into the Atlantic from the Amazon and from fires in Africa. But there’s also a natural source of upwelling from the depths of the Atlantic ocean.
No matter the cause or source, the more nutrients that enter the ocean, the more sargassum will bloom. Will we see more on our coasts, then?
Johnson said, “it certainly increases the chances, but it’s not a guarantee.”
Discussion about this post