Massive amounts of smelly seaweed found in the Caribbean could trigger headaches for sun-lovers.

Every winter millions of Canadians travel to the Caribbean seeking sun, clean beaches and crystal-clear water.

This year, , travelers may have noticed something unpleasant waiting for their guests on the beach: smelly brown Sargassum.

In the last decade the smelly seaweed has been more prevalent on beaches throughout the Caribbean and in the south Atlantic Ocean. What’s happening? To comprehend, you must understand the concept of sargassum.

What is Sargassum?

Sargassum is a kind of seaweed that is brown (and an algae type) located within the Atlantic Ocean. It’s comprised of leafy parts and oxygen-rich round berry-like fragments that allow it to float in the water. It does not have seeds or roots.

Contrary to other varieties of seaweeds, Sargassum spends all of its life in the ocean, in small areas. Sargassum is typically located in the region known as Sargasso Sea. Sargasso Sea, and is known to move within a vortex, also known as the gyre. It is located in five million square kilometers of a belt which extends starting from Chesapeake Bay in the mid-Atlantic and all the way towards the Caribbean.

However, sargassum may form a raft, forming the appearance of a raft or patch. It follows a seasonal pattern that begins in spring, gaining its apex in summer, and then dying in the autumn.

Sargassum is a brown, leafy algae species which lives and reproduces on the ocean’s surface. Atlantic Ocean. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

Sometimes, large amounts of debris can be found on beaches, which could be a nuisance for beach-goers. However, they’re essential to some marine life, as they provide breeding grounds and food for animals like sea turtles, fish and many more.

“[Sargassumhas created massive floating masses that are floating in the sea’s open, which are fantastic, actually … due to the fact that they absorb carbon dioxide and also take in nutrients, they support a wide range of life and many species depend upon them.” stated Brigitta in Tussenbroek who is a scientist in the National Autonomous Universities in Mexico’s Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology.

“Even even the American eel, also known as the Northern European eel, they would not be there in the absence of the Sargasso Sea, for instance. This is why it’s such a great system.”

Is it growing?

Although most sargassum stays within this gyre, it could travel on an unidirectional conveyor belt between areas like the Atlantic as well as the Caribbean. Scientists have observed a dramatic increase in the amount of sargassum that is washing off beaches across the Caribbean since the year 2011.

“Sometimes certain Gyres … slow down and some Sargassum flew away, and then headed to Cuba and then to Hispaniola and others ended in Mexico travel to in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, it returned back towards in the Sargasso Sea.” van Tussenbroek said.

“Since the year 2010-11 the sargassum began to build up in a different areathat is located to the north of the Equator, in the tropical Atlantic.”

The park guard Roberto Varela walks over sargassum seaweed, which has been piled up along the beach in Guanahacabibes peninsula, Cuba in June 2022. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

What is the reason for this? Scientists aren’t certain.

There are a variety of factors that could be involved, such as climate change and human activities, said van Tussenbroek.

Chuanmin Hu, a professor at the University of South Florida who examines these blooms using the Sargassum Watch System (SaWS) He said that a significant amount of the nutrients are derived from Saharan Desert dust that blows across the Atlantic Ocean.

However, there is also upwelling in the ocean according to him, in which water from the depths below the ocean surface is brought to the surface and, with it the addition of nutrients, which in turn further aids the blooms. Scientists believe that due to a change in climate, there might increase the rate of ocean upwelling. In addition, nutrients flow to the Atlantic from the Congo River in Africa and the Amazon River in South America.

“Now it is a matter of what is the dominant factor?” Hu declared. “We aren’t sure. It’s hard to measure their impact.”

What’s the state of affairs this year?

According to SaWS the month of January was the second consecutive month that sargassum increased by a third the previous time in the year 2018. Although it decreased to a low in the month of February expectation is it’ll grow and spread through the waters of Caribbean nations. This year was the year with the highest number of Sargassum recorded.

So far, the year has been a great one, Hu said, adding that during the month of December SaWS forecast that the year 2023 would be an additional record-setting year but there’s no assurance.

“All We can do is that this will be another year of major significance.”

How much do you think it will cost?

The month of January saw was more than 8 million metric tons of sargassum floating in the Atlantic Ocean, Hu said. In February, the number decreased to six-to-seven million tonnes. However, Hu claimed there might be more in March.

“Right now , they’re scattered both here and there, with a small amount. Within the belt, there’s a density below 0.1 percent,” Hu said. “But If you could place all of the sargassum in one location, what would be the area? It’s around, I believe 3000 square kilometers, without a gap.”

Aerial image of algae Sargassum in Cancun August. 13 2015. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

What are the consequences of big blooms?

The large-scale blooms scientists have observed forming since 2011 pose a challenge. Hotels and towns must bear the costs removal of these blooms so that they can protect an industry that is booming in tourism.

Also, there’s the worry about ecosystems.

Workers remove Sargassum algae from Punta Piedra Beach in Tulum located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on August. 11 2018, 2018. (Israel Leal/Reuters)

A large number of sargassum harm fragile shoreline ecosystems and can also choke coral reefs, decreasing their roughness and cover that makes them more vulnerable to the waves and offer less protection against hurricanes. They can also hinder sea turtles that are hatching from getting to the ocean.

The positive side is that there are certain uses for the vast quantities of sargassum. These include making it biofuel, or even for building materials.

Do I need to be worried?

If you’re headed for the beaches and you come across the masses of sand, there’s nothing to worry about, however the smell that comes from them as they break down could be unpleasant. It could also ruin the offshore snorkelling or swimming experience you may want to take part in.

“What I’d like to say now to visitors is to not be afraid,” Hu said. “This is an unnatural plant and it’s not harmful. If you consume excessive amounts, and [it is decomposed, it might be hazardous, but it’s poisonous generally speaking,” Hu said. ”

“And often even when they do accumulate on beaches, locals usually remove them. Therefore, if you’re planning plans to travel, go to Florida and visit the Caribbean. I’d rather not stress about things.”

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