Massive, stinky seaweed blob heading to Florida, may hamper summer vacation plans

A giant blob of seaweed is headed for the shores of Florida and other coastlines throughout the Gulf of Mexico, dampening tourism season.
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Photo: Chad Sparkes / CC BY 2.0/ MGN

(CNN) — A giant blob of seaweed twice the width of the continental United States is headed for the shores of Florida and other coastlines throughout the Gulf of Mexico, threatening to dump smelly and possibly harmful piles across beaches and dampening tourism season.

Sargassum — the specific variety of seaweed — has long formed large blooms in the Atlantic Ocean, and scientists have been tracking massive accumulations since 2011. But this year’s bloom could be the largest ever, collectively spanning more than 5,000 miles (8,047 kilometers) from the shores of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico.

Traveling west, the blob will push through the Caribbean and up into the Gulf of Mexico during the summer. The seaweed is expected to show up on beaches in Florida around July, Lapointe said.

The problems with sargassum arise when it hits the beaches, piling up in mounds that can be difficult to navigate and emitting a gas that can smell like rotten eggs.

Sargassum can also quickly turn from an asset to a threat to ocean life.

It comes in such “large quantities that it basically sucks the oxygen out of the water and creates what we refer to as dead zones,” Lapointe said. “These are normally nursery habitats for fisheries … and once they’re devoid of oxygen, we have lost that habitat.”

Sargassum can be dangerous to humans, too, Lapointe added. The gas emitted from the rotting algae — hydrogen sulfide — is toxic and can cause respiratory problems. The seaweed also contains arsenic in its flesh, making it dangerous if ingested or used for fertilizer.

Before traveling to coastal areas this spring or summer, research whether sargassum is at your destination or might show up there, Lapointe said. Plan ahead so your vacation won’t disappoint.

Categories: News, US