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Wednesday,  May 22, 2024 7:52 PM 

8,000-km-wide seaweed “blob” floating towards Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean

8,000-km-wide seaweed “blob” floating towards Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean
A tourist poses in front of a pile of sargassum in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in 2018. (File photo/Mario Ricard)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

A gigantic mass of seaweed that is being described as a “5,000-mile-wide blob” is floating towards Florida, threatening tourism there, as well as popular shores in Mexico and the Caribbean.

As reported by CNN, the seaweed that formed in the Atlantic Ocean could bring intense smells and “potentially dangerous heaps” across beaches through the Gulf of Mexico.

In what sounds like the plot of a horror film, the seaweed, also known as sargassum – a genus of brown macroalgae – has long accumulated in the Atlantic.

Scientists have been tracking sargassum for years, and for beach resorts, clearing the slimy stuff has been an ongoing nuisance.

READ MORE: A "very strong" sargassum season ahead: Tulum to install sea barriers

But this year could see the largest blanket of sargassum ever recorded — reaching more than 5,000 miles (which is a little more than 8,000 kilometres) from the coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico.

Sargassum, in open waters, serves as a habitat for ocean life. But when it washes up on shore, not only is the macroalgae ugly looking, but it also stinks and can worsen air quality as it begins to rot.

Sargassum is a type of brown macroalgae that accumulates in the Atlantic Ocean. (File photo/Unsplash/Thor Tryggvason)

The Smithsonian reports that sargassum usually make landfall in May, then peaks in June and July.

As it piles up on beaches, it releases toxic hydrogen sulfide into the air — a gas that kind of smells like rotten eggs.

Its impact on respiratory and neurological issues in humans has also been investigated – a 2022 study claimed women living in coastal areas with high sargassum had an increased risk of pregnancy problems, for example. 

Hundreds of tons of sargassum could cover once-accessible beaches this year, scientists say, with Key West, FL, already reporting sargassum build-up on its beaches.  

Sargassum accumulates on a beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico in 2018. (File photo/Sophie Alarie)

Apparently this year’s seaweed bloom can be seen from space, according to a satellite-based Sargassum Watch System run by the University of South Florida. 

Meanwhile, cities in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, including Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, are preparing for up to 3 feet of sargassum buildup in the coming days, according to local news reports. 

Tulum to install sea barriers 

Earlier this month, Tulum announced an early arrival of sargassum on its beaches.

Local officials said that towards the end of April, the Navy would install an anti-Sargassum network off the coast in order to protect public areas..

Director of the Tulum Federal Maritime Terrestrial Zone (Zofemat) Melitón González Pérez, said that before the start of a "very strong sargassum season,” the municipality chose a site for disposal where the brown algae will be transferred.

“We continue to work in coordination because a very strong sargassum season is coming up, so we want to be coordinated to be able to make out as well as possible by being able to remove the algae from the beaches,” González Pérez was quoted as saying.

The director also suggested implementing two sargassum collection boats off the coast of Tulum "in order to avoid mass landings on the beaches.”

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