Sargassum — a form of seaweed — is expected to wash ashore in Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean in record amounts this season—not exactly the serene beach getaway your incentive winners may have been expecting.
The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, a 5,000-mile-long floating mat of brown seaweed, has been known to wash ashore before — it’s actually a regular part of life from April to October in some Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico areas.
While it’s not harmful to humans, when it starts to rot on the beach, the macroaglae releases hydrogen sulfide gas that smells like rotten eggs and can irritate people’s eyes, nose and throats. It got so bad in the U.S. Virgin Islands last year that the territory announced a state of emergency due to the accumulation of “exceptionally high quantities” of sargassum on its coastlines.
Destinations Gearing Up
Fortunately, resorts in areas likely to be inundated with the stuff are already on it. For example, in Mexico the city of Cancun is deploying a partnership with a high-tech private company that can scoop up about 600 tons of sargassum per day and turn it into biofertilizers. However, this still requires a lot of manual labor as resort and city workers have to first sweep it up off the beaches and take it to the company’s waste centers for processing. According to the Cancun Sun, this takes about 160 cleaners, plus an untold number of volunteers, to get the brown goo off the beaches.
About 80 kilometers south of Cancun, Playa del Carmen is also putting massive containers on some of its more popular beaches to aid in collecting and removing the sargassum — and is calling on the Navy to help put barriers offshore to make it easier to collect before it ever hits the shoreline. Isla Mujeres also is planning to deploy a 160-person sargassum-cleaning crew, and officials in Tulum recently announced they would install around 3 kilometers of anti-sargassum barriers in late April, as well as work with the Navy, volunteer organizations and the city’s resorts.
In Florida, officials are also gearing up for the record sargassum bloom. In Pensacola, the plan is to take any excess beyond the norm off the beach and bury it in the dunes, where it can help nourish the dune vegetation, according to the Pensacola News Journal.
Because the seaweed follows the Gulf Stream current, it typically travels past the Florida Keys and around Miami to the east coast of Florida, avoiding the west coast. “No matter how much sargassum will land on the east coast beaches, the west coast of Florida is largely spared every year [and] this year is no exception,” University of South Florida Oceanography Professor Dr. Chuanmin Hu told Tampa Bay’s Channel 10. “I think the managers around Florida are prepared to remove this because they’re experienced from the past 30 years. So they don’t let sargassum decompose, they simply remove those before they do.”
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