Seaweed taking over Bay area beaches


Asher Montgomery

Saragassum found on Pass-a-grille beach this summer in Tampa Bay

The beaches are covered and those who dare to swim find themselves tangled in brown, sticky, rotten-egg-smelling seaweed. The seaweed has replaced the beach goers and the only people out there hold rakes, to sweep the seaweed away before the tide brings more in again and they have to restart.
Every summer more seaweed lines the coast and with that comes unhappy swimmers and suffocated marine-life. Sargassum is the brown seaweed that has been causing problems for our beaches for the last couple of years. This summer the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt has become the largest seaweed bloom in the world, stretching from Africa to the Gulf of Mexico where our very own Tampa Bay beaches reside.

Sargassum Studies

The University of South Florida’s Optical Oceanography Lab takes a lead in studying this growth. Their studies show seasonal growth patterns and effects it has on humans and the environment. Dr. Mengqiu Wang of USF, the leader of the research project regarding the Sargassum, notes that Sargassum at a limit provides habitats to a lot of marine life, but becomes a nuisance when too much starts to pile up. “It clogs the harbors, covers the beautiful beaches and releases an unpleasant smell as it decays,” she said. The seagrass could also be a public health concern by attracting insects. It is bad for corals and other costal ecosystems because it blocks the sunlight, consumes oxygen, releases organic matters and lessens the quality of the water. She also adds that it will negatively affect tourism and fishery in areas affected, which are coastal areas near the Caribbean Sea, Mexico and Florida.
And she’s right. Hotel check-in rates in Mexican cities such as Cancun, a city known for its tourism, have been going down. When the Sargassum hits Tampa Bay and other Florida coasts, Florida’s tourism rates could head downhill too. Florida depends on tourism as its number one source of income. A decline will mean an increase in taxes, or a lesser budget to public services.

How To Help

Dr. Wang informs that there is a lot more to learn about the plant. “I believe that creative high-schoolers can think of ways to effectively collect the seaweed, and to make use of them,” she said. “Some people have been proposing to turn Sargassum into biofuel or animal food.”
The cause for the bloom, according to Danielle Hall, the Digital Producer of Smithsonian Institution’s Ocean informational website, is a mixture of two problems. “The Sargassum growth is a result of both climate change and the introduction of more nutrients into the ocean [through] fertilizer runoff and waste runoff,” she said. She also mentioned that deforestation increases the seaweed’s growth.
To help, Hall suggests volunteering with local non-profits that clean up waterways of nutrient pollution. Tampa Bay Waterkeepers is an example of one of these non-profits. They monitor the water quality around the bay, help clean nutrient runoff and fight for more regulations to protect Florida’s water.
Dr. Hu, the professor of Optical Oceanography at USF says that the blooms will only get bigger, and we should expect it as the new normal.
As the belt grows, and Florida becomes more affected by the rotten-egg-scented seaweed, Florida tourism’s agency might have something to worry about as well. “Considering that a large portion of Florida’s economy relies on tourism,” Freshman Jeremy Ignatious said. “I think we should find a way to use the seaweed in a way that will also help the environment.”