Florida is on high alert as a giant blob of sargassum seaweed is making its way towards the state. The seaweed is a genus of brown macroalgae found in temperate and tropical oceans across the globe, but warming ocean temperatures have caused it to become increasingly nomadic, leading to it sapping nutrients and oxygen from the reefs it engulfs.
The sea of sargassum, currently floating towards Florida, has doubled for two consecutive months and now weighs roughly 8.7 million tons, which is around 3,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. Once it makes land, it creates dead zones in which other life cannot thrive and releases its stored carbon into the air, contributing to the planet’s already-too-high CO2 emissions.
Sargassum can form giant clumps that stretch for miles, providing shelter and food to birds, fishes, sea turtles, and crustaceans. The clumps are the exclusive home for some species like sargassum fish and act like nursery grounds for juvenile animals, including mahi-mahi and turtles. Eventually, they lose their buoyancy and sink to the seafloor, becoming a primary food source in the food webs of the deep sea, making them an important habitat for many species across different zones of the water column.
Tom Mahady, the city of Boynton Beach (Florida) Ocean Rescue chief, warned that the beach could be clean at 8 a.m. and three to four hours later a giant mat of sargassum, the size of a mall, could come in like the blob, like a Stephen King movie. It’s not pleasant for swimmers, he added.
Scientists are working to find sustainable ways to tackle these golden tides. The goal is to find an effective way to pre-process seaweed piling up on beaches so it can be turned into something useful. But converting marine biomass like seaweed usually requires removing it from saltwater, washing it in fresh water, and drying it, which can be very expensive.
Keep a weather eye on the horizon, Florida, because something stinky this way comes.