Florida braces for 5,000-mile-wide stinky seaweed blob — and a toxic algae bloom | Morningstar


As if the red tide isn’t concerning enough, now “the blob” is headed to the state.

Scientists are tracking a 5,000-mile-wide patchwork of seaweed clumps in the Atlantic that is making its way toward the Caribbean and Mexico, as well as Florida beaches. In fact, scientists have been following similar phenomena since 2011, but this year’s blob could be a record in size. It is adding and subtracting to its overall size as it moves, but as a whole, is expected to be a chart-topper this year.

The mass is known as sargassum, a brown seaweed that floats in large masses, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The University of South Florida’s Optical Oceanography Lab, which tracks the mass using NASA satellite imagery, says the latest bloom had already doubled every month from November to January.

In the open sea, healthy patches of sargassum can soak up carbon dioxide and serve as a critical habitat for fish, crabs, shrimp, turtles and birds.

But it poses risks to wildlife and humans closer to land.

For one thing, as the biomass degrades, it releases gases like hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs.

The mass accumulation can wreak havoc on local ecosystems, smothering coral reefs and changing the water’s pH balance. As for humans, the big beach and pier pile-ups can choke local economies by closing tourism sites, cutting off marinas and hurting fishing yields.

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, said Dr. Brian Lapointe, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, speaking to CNN.

The organization called the blob “problematic” given its size, in a Twitter post.

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