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Caribbean shores choked by record amount of seaweed that's killing wildlife and cutting off tourism

Paradise chokes: 24 million tons of sargassum seaweed chokes Caribbean shores, kills wildlife, cuts tourism and releases toxic gases

  • The amount of algae found in the tropical, central western and eastern Atlantic Ocean, as well as in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, was 24.2 million tons in June
  • “If you put all this biomass side by side, the whole area is equal to six times Tampa Bay,” said study researcher Chuanmin Hu.
  • The large floating mats clog fishing gear, hinder navigation at sea and the resulting decomposition is very damaging to ecosystems and economies
  • “The seaweed that is inundating our beaches also carries the potential for business disruption,” said Albert Bryan, governor of the US Virgin Islands.

Forget sea monsters and tidal waves. Beachgoers and fishermen alike are having their summers ruined by something far less cinematic: record amounts of stinky “sargassum” seaweed that have inundated vast swaths of the Atlantic’s coastline.

The amount of algae found in the tropical, central western and eastern Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, was 24.2 million tons in June. That is an increase from 18.8 million tons a month earlier and a record high.

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

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The amount of algae found in the tropical, central western and eastern Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, was 24.2 million tons in June. Sargasso seaweed can be seen above in the North Sound Cayman Islands

1659636045 921 Caribbean shores choked by record amount of seaweed that039s killing

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

The huge amounts of sargassum on the beaches and close to the coast have put a brake on tourism and vital fisheries in the Caribbean.

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

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

A day later, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in the area, citing the threat that clumps of sargassum in the US Virgin Islands’ desalination plants pose to the area’s freshwater supply.

For those hoping for seaweed-free Caribbean beaches in the coming summers, Hu said don't set your expectations too high and that massive sargassum blooms in the waters are likely a

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

Once washed up, rotting sargassum not only smells awful, but poses a health problem, with researchers saying it can emit toxic gases that can give people palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness and other symptoms.

In a 2019 paper for the magazine Sciencea team of researchers found that sargassum, which tended to be more prevalent in the northern parts of the Atlantic, had become increasingly common in the south since 2011. Hu said there are several reasons for what caused that spread, including unusually strong winds and currents the year before.

The southern Atlantic, with its abundant sunshine and nutrient-rich waters, proved fertile ground for sargassum, leading to the current crisis.

While it wreaks havoc on land-based industries, the United Nations Environment Program says the seaweed itself is not a problem as it can provide a happy habitat and breeding ground for a variety of marine animals ranging from crabs to dolphins to an assortment of eel and fish.

Rather, it is “the large floating mats that clog fishing gear and hinder navigation at sea, and the mass strandings on shores and ensuing decomposition that are deeply damaging to people, ecosystems and economies.”

Hu agreed that sargassum is largely not a problem at sea, but said there is some evidence that the massive amounts of seaweed could pose a problem if huge amounts of it died off and sink to the bottom of the ocean, where it destroys coral reefs. could suffocate and other environments.

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

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

A mat of Sargasso weed has made its way north and has clumped up along the coast of the Northern Cayman Islands

A mat of Sargasso weed has made its way north and has clumped up along the coast of the Northern Cayman Islands

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