A gargantuan mass of seaweed that formed in the Atlantic Ocean is headed for the shores of Florida and other coastlines throughout the Gulf of Mexico, threatening to dump smelly and potentially dangerous heaps across beaches and put a big damper on tourist season.
The seaweed, a variety called sargassum, has long formed large blooms in the Atlantic, and scientists have been tracking massive accumulations since 2011. But this year’s sargassum mass could be the largest on record — spanning more than 5,000 miles from the coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico.
The blob is currently pushing west and will pass through the Caribbean and up into the Gulf of Mexico during the summer, with the seaweed expected to become prevalent on beaches in Florida around July, according to Dr. Brian Lapointe, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.
Lapointe said this year’s sargassum bloom began to form early and doubled in size between December and January. The mass “was larger in January than it has ever been since this new region of sargassum growth began in 2011,” Lapointe told CNN’s Rosemary Church.
“This is an entirely new oceanographic phenomenon that is creating such a problem — really a catastrophic problem — for tourism in the Caribbean region where it piles up on beaches up to 5 or 6 feet deep,” Lapointe added.
He noted that in Barbados, locals were using “1,600 dump trucks a day to clean the beaches of this seaweed to make it suitable for tourists and recreation on the beaches.”