Caribbean coasts are choked with record amounts of algae that are killing wildlife and blocking tourism

Paradise is choking: 24 million tons of sargassum seaweed are choking Caribbean shores, killing wildlife, disrupting tourism, and releasing toxic gases

  • The amount of algae found in the tropical, west-central and eastern Atlantic – as well as in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico – was up to 24.2 million tonnes in June.
  • “If you put all this biomass side by side, the whole area is six times that of Tampa Bay,” said researcher Chuanmin Hu.
  • Large floating mats clog fishing gear, hinder navigation at sea and the resulting decomposition is highly damaging to ecosystems and economies
  • “The seaweed that invades our beaches also poses potential disruption to commercial activities,” said the governor of the US Virgin Islands. Alberto Bryan

Forget about sea monsters and tidal waves. Swimmers and fishermen alike are seeing their summers marred by something far less cinematic: record amounts of smelly “sargassum” seaweed that have flooded huge expanses of the Atlantic Ocean coast.

The amount of algae found in the tropical, west-central and eastern Atlantic – as well as in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico – was up to 24.2 million tons in June. This is an increase from the previous month’s 18.8 million tons and a record.

“If you put all this biomass side by side, the whole area is six times the size of Tampa Bay,” Chuanmin Hu, a researcher at the University of South Florida who has studied the phenomenon, told DailyMail.com.

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The amount of algae found in the tropical, west-central and eastern Atlantic – as well as in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico – was up to 24.2 million tons in June. Sargasso seaweed is seen above in the North Sound Cayman Islands

“If you put all this biomass side by side, the whole area is six times the size of Tampa Bay,” Chuanmin Hu, a researcher at the University of South Florida who has studied the phenomenon, told DailyMail.com. Lakes Beach (above) is covered in sargassum in St Andrew on the east coast of Barbados

Huge quantities of sargassum on beaches and near the coast have put a damper on tourism and vital Caribbean fishing industries.

The situation got so bad that US Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan Jr. declared a state of emergency in July.

In a statement, Bryan said that “the seaweed that invades our beaches also carries potential disruption to businesses and other negative financial impacts on our economy.”

The next day, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in the territory, citing the threat that the blockages of sargassum in the desalination plants of the US Virgin Islands represent for the fresh water supply of the territory.

For those hoping for seaweed-free Caribbean beaches in future summers, Hu said he doesn't set his expectations too high and that the massive blooms of sargassum in the waters are likely one.

For those hoping for seaweed-free Caribbean beaches in future summers, Hu said he doesn’t set his expectations too high and that massive blooms of sargassum in the waters are likely a “new normal.”

When washed ashore, decaying sargassum not only smells awful but also poses a health concern, with researchers claiming it can emit toxic gases that can give humans heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, and other symptoms.

In a 2019 article for the journal Science, a team of researchers found that sargassum, which was usually more predominant in the northern parts of the Atlantic, had become increasingly common in the south since 2011. Hu said there are several reasons as to what triggered it spread, including unusually strong winds and currents the year before.

The southern part of the Atlantic, with its ample sunshine and nutrient-rich waters, has proved to be a breeding ground for sargassum, leading to the current crisis.

Although it devastates terrestrial industries, the United Nations Environment Program says seaweed itself is not a problem, since it can provide a happy habitat and feeding ground for a variety of marine creatures ranging from crabs to dolphins to an assortment of eels and fish.

Rather, it is “the large floating mats that clog fishing gear and prevent navigation at sea, and the mass stranding on the coasts and subsequent decomposition that is highly damaging to people, ecosystems and economies”.

Hu agreed that sargassum largely does not pose a problem at sea, but said there is some evidence that huge amounts of algae could pose a problem if huge amounts of them were to die and sink to the ocean floor, where they could suffocate coral reefs and other environments.

For those hoping for seaweed-free Caribbean beaches in future summers, Hu said he doesn’t set his expectations too high and that massive blooms of sargassum in the waters are likely a “new normal.”

Hu noted that sargassum has many uses, from being made into fertilizer, bricks, and tennis shoes to being tossed in a salad, so maybe there is some kind of opportunity in this crisis.

A carpet of Sargasso grass has found its way into the northern sound and massed along the coast of the Northern Cayman Islands

A carpet of Sargasso grass has found its way into the northern sound and massed along the coast of the Northern Cayman Islands

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