A gigantic seaweed blob, stretching over 5,000 miles wide, is steadily moving toward the Caribbean and the state of Florida. Researchers predict this enormous seaweed bloom could be one of the largest ever recorded.
The majority of the Caribbean, beaches along the Atlantic coastline, the state of Florida, Key West, and the Bahamas are likely to experience the effects of the brown seaweed, which emits a smell of rotting eggs when washed ashore, impacting cruise ships sailing to the area.
Seaweed Impacts Beaches and Cruise Ships
The approach of a massive 5000-mile seaweed blob has sparked apprehension within the cruise sector. The impact is not limited to Florida’s coastline but extends to well-known cruise destinations throughout the Caribbean, ranging from Barbados in the south to the beaches near popular Mexican cruise ports. At this moment, the blob stretches out between the west coast of Africa and the Northern tip of South America.
Last summer, the U.S. Virgin Islands announced a state of emergency due to the accumulation of “exceptionally high quantities” of sargassum on its coastlines. In 2018, a massive sargassum bloom extending approximately 5,500 miles across the Atlantic Ocean resulted in doctors on the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique recording thousands of “acute” exposure to hydrogen sulfide.
In 2018, sargassum seaweed invaded the beach at Grand Turk, a popular destination for cruise ships. The seaweed affected the usually pristine beach, turning it dark and gloomy. As the current seaweed blob approaches, there are concerns that similar situations may occur at other cruise destinations, particularly during the Spring Break period.
While cruise ships will not have much trouble sailing through the seaweed patches, guests visiting Florida, the Caribbean, Key West, and the Bahamas will undoubtedly see the effects.
Some areas of the Caribbean and Key West have already started to witness seaweed wash-up, affecting the experience of cruise passengers and beachgoers. In Barbados, residents have resorted to employing approximately 1,600 dump trucks daily to clear the algae from their beaches.
The sargassum seaweed will mainly impact the experience on the beach for cruise ship visitors in port. Those enjoying the beach can forget about the lush blue crystal clear waters for that perfect selfie. Smaller boats would also have to avoid heavy areas with the seaweed incase it’s gets twisted in the propeller.
It is uncertain where most of the seaweed blob will end up. Beaches in South Florida, such as those in Miami-Dade County, have also already begun cleaning up the seaweed. The sargassum blooms in the Caribbean have been a recurring issue, with varying levels of impact on the cruise industry and tourist experiences.
Caribbean and Florida Prepare for Seaweed Invasion
Researchers believe that parts of the Sargassum mass will break off and follow the Gulf Stream, which flows north along Florida’s east coast, turning eastward off North Carolina and traveling northeast across the Atlantic. However, the majority is expected to enter the Caribbean, float past the outer Leeward Islands, and even into the Gulf of Mexico.
In response to the approaching seaweed blob, several communities in Florida are gearing up for a potentially long season of seaweed washing ashore.
Past large-scale seaweed events in 2014, 2015, 2018, and 2019 have prompted many Florida communities to develop Sargassum removal plans to mitigate the problem’s impact. In Key West, for example, the city contracts a company to remove seaweed daily in anticipation of a heavier load when the seaweed blob reaches its shores.
Local resorts and hotels in the affected areas have also hired contractors to remove the seaweed, with efforts scaling up when significant events are detected.
What is Sargassum?
Sargassum is a brown seaweed that serves as an essential habitat for certain marine animals, such as crabs, shrimp, sea turtles, and tuna, which have adapted to rely on it.
When Sargassum washes up on shore, it rots and releases hydrogen sulfide, which emits a foul odor reminiscent of rotten eggs. According to the Florida Department of Health, the seaweed is not harmful to humans, but small marine life in the Sargassum can cause skin irritation and blisters.
The hydrogen sulfide can lead to watery eyes and nose and throat irritation, particularly for individuals with asthma or other respiratory conditions.