If you are planning a trip to Florida this summer, you may have heard of the seaweed problem off the coast.
If you haven’t, you may be wondering why seaweed that is supposed to have superior nutrients would be an issue. Here is everything you need to know about the seaweed problem in Florida in 2022.
The seaweed isn’t the type of seaweed you think of when you go to a sushi restaurant.
This seaweed, also known as sargassum, has been a problem throughout the Caribbean and Florida for at least the last 7 years.
Sargassum is a brown seaweed that is buoyant since it is filled with oxygen. It clumps together in huge masses and then washes up on the beach.
So where did this issue arise from?
With rising ocean temperatures, the seaweed problem has escalated to where it is today in 2022. Unfortunately, the biggest algae bloom in the world is floating off the coast in the Tropical Atlantic and right in the direction of Florida’s east coast.
Maybe you’re thinking seaweed is a good thing! It is in environmentally sustainable doses.
Much marine life including nesting turtles relies on sargassum for nutrients. The problem is when it comes ashore, it begins to rot and smells like rotten eggs. No one wants to go for a beach vacation with the stank.
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Does Florida have a seaweed problem in 2022?
We’ll start with the stinky news… Yes, indeed Florida does have a current seaweed problem, as does most of the Caribbean. The semi-good news is that a lot of the Florida beaches on the west coast aren’t affected. The better news is that this may be the worst it is going to get.
University of South Florida researchers have been monitoring the issue and report that seaweed numbers have increased this year from 18 million tons in May to 24 million tons in June.
Known as “Gulfweed” or “sea holly” in Florida, the sargassum originated from the Sargasso Sea which is thought to have started off the coast of South America.
Greater in size than Australia, the Sargasso Sea is pushed around by currents into the Gulf Stream of Mexico, which then carries it north and east winds drive it onshore, thus the Florida seaweed problem in 2022.
Tourism on the east coast of Florida has been negatively affected by the nuisance. The sargassum gets tangled in boat engines and fishing nets and no one really wants to swim or surf in an ocean of seaweed.
Current seaweed conditions in Florida
Since sargassum originated off the coast of South America and traveled up north through currents, the usual pattern is that only the east side of the coast is most affected. This has been true throughout the Caribbean and Florida.
The places in Florida that have been hit the hardest are the beaches from Miami all the way up to Cape Canaveral. The current situation on the east coast of Florida is frankly, not the best.
As the currents continue to bring the seaweed into the Gulf of Mexico and then through the Florida Straits, to the towns on the east coast. Places like Boca Raton and Delray Beach have had up to 2 feet of seaweed on the shore.
Florida is a large state with over 8,486 miles of coastline. Roughly over 3,300 miles of that is on the Atlantic side and over 5,000 miles on the gulf side.
The point is that there are still plenty of beaches in Florida that are largely unaffected by the seaweed and are open for business!
The State of Florida is taking the seaweed problem seriously.
There are several measures stated below that the state of Florida and local governments are taking to help alleviate the problem and hopefully local businesses affected by the seaweed will be able to keep their doors open.
Seaweed forecast for the year 2022 in Florida
The seaweed is worse in the summer with warmer ocean temperatures. The blooms have been increasing steadily since February and seem to be at their peak at the moment.
The overall prediction of researchers is that the east coast of Florida should get a respite by the fall when water temperatures drop. Local authorities are asking for residents and tourists to be patient in the next few months.
If you already have a trip booked to Florida this summer, there are certain precautions you can take with the nasty sargassum. Instinctively, it contains high levels of arsenic and other metals so if you come across it, try not to touch it.
The seaweed itself isn’t inherently toxic, but there can be tiny organisms living in the sargassum that can cause skin issues. Some of these include jellyfish larvae and insects that can bite.
Other health issues include irritation in the eyes, nose, and throat. High levels can cause more serious health problems. such as poor memory, exhaustion, balance issues, and severe respiratory issues.
If you happen to have any of these symptoms, it’s probably best to hit the pool this summer and avoid the beach.
Florida Sargassum Seaweed Season 2022
The sargassum is a naturally occurring phenomenon and an annual problem for nearly all Caribbean nations.
Sargassum reproduces continuously throughout the year in the sargasso sea but with the help of ocean currents, it reaches the beaches of Florida and the other Caribbean countries.
However, as water temperatures rise from April to October, sargassum reproduction increases significantly. In other words, the sargassum season typically lasts from April until October. June and July, in particular, are the peak months of sargassum season in Florida.
Is Sargassum Seaweed harmful to Humans?
Sargassum can be harmful to both marine life and humans. When sargassum gets washed up on the shore, it begins to decay and releases hydrogen sulfide gas.
Even at low concentrations, inhaling this gas can cause eye irritation and breathing difficulties. Aside from that, hydrogen sulfide gas has an awful stench that is similar to rotten eggs which makes swimming and other water activities difficult for visitors.
What measures are being taken by the Florida government or local authorities to tackle the seaweed problem?
There have been many approaches to handle the issue which seem to vary from county to county. Some are letting nature take its course by leaving the sargassum alone. Many are afraid to disturb the delicate marine ecosystem that relies on seaweed for sustainability.
Other local municipalities are taking matters into their own hands. Several county workers clean beaches daily by using rakes pulled by machines.
Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem completely by removing the surplus of seaweed, but reports are that it does help.
There is no law against removing sargassum in Florida, so many owners of hotels and beachfront properties have been able to remove the seaweed by hand without a permit.
Many have joined together to combat the problem with new removal methods and research on using the sargassum for alternative fuel sources.
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