Tampa Bay Area Spared Worst Of Giant Seaweed Blob Heading To FL: USF

FLORIDA — As a massive seaweed blob stretching 5,000 miles from the coast of West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico breaks up and makes its way to Florida shores, the greater Tampa Bay area will be spared the worst of the mess.

“It will mostly be on the East Coast of Florida, the ocean side of Florida and the Keys,” Chuanmin Hu, a researcher with the University of South Florida’s Optical Oceanography Laboratory, told Patch. “On the West Coast, no matter what, we’ll be spared. We may get a little bit of sargassum here and there, but we get those anyway. We’ll be spared.”

The sargassum bloom, which returns annually, is on track to be the largest it’s ever grown. It’s estimated to weigh between 12 and 13 million tons as of mid-May and it’s still growing, Hu said.

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Most years, the large bloom weighs between 8 and 9 million pounds by May.

The seaweed bloom started growing early this year, he added. “That’s what was different this year. Back in January, we already had a record high amount in the Atlantic (Ocean). … That’s what’s so unusual. It started early with a large amount.”

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Scientists aren’t sure what’s causing the record bloom.

“Something must be going on in that part of the ocean, especially in the eastern Atlantic,” Hu said. “We suspect unusual ocean circulation or unusual winds that stimulate more nutrients to this plant, but that’s just speculation. We have not confirmed that.”

The bloom’s cycle is the same each year — a winter low and a summer high — the researcher said. “And this year is no exception. What we don’t know is if we’ll continue to see that 30 percent (increase) each month into the summer. If we do, then we’ll really set a record for all-time high. Some months grow faster than other months and we can’t predict how much.”

Hu added, “It will grow for sure; that we have no doubt. It will increase, but how much it will increase into the summer months, in June and July — the peak months — we’ll have to wait and see.”

The bloom’s previous record high was June 2022 at 20 million tons.

While the algae drift serves as an ecosystem for marine life and is home to more than 100 species, it creates problems when it comes ashore.

These blooms threaten coral reef systems by blocking sunlight and choking coral. It also interferes with sea turtle nests and causes massive fish kills.

As it builds up on shore, the seaweed rots, producing a hydrogen sulfide gas that smells like rotten eggs, according to the Florida Department of Health. This can cause respiratory issues for those exposed to the smell, especially people with asthma and other health problems.

Still, Hu said Florida residents and visitors shouldn’t panic.

“This is not red tide. It smells bad but only in very special cases is it a health problem,” he said. “Most of the time, you’ll be ok. If you see sargassum on the beach in a large amount, you just go away and avoid it and local land management will clean it up. I wouldn’t worry about this. And it’s a record high, but only a tiny little bit of that amount will come to Florida.”

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