News & Events for Chesapeake Bay

This killer belt of seaweed stretches all the way across the Atlantic: And we finally know why it exists.

Date Posted: 2019-07-09
Source: Popular Science

A massive mat of seaweed, hundreds of miles long, is currently floating toward the Caribbean coast of Mexico. The Sargassum threatens to coat over 180 miles of beaches there, washing up along popular destinations like Tulum. As it advances, the once clear blue waters are turning brown and the algae's decay sickens the fresh, salty air with a rotten egg smell. Desperate to keep tourists coming, hotel owners are spending up to $47,000 a month to clean up the mess.

New satellite data reveals that the "great Atlantic Sargassum belt" extends from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. This yearly bloom might be here to stay, according to a new study, published Thursday in Science. "This is the largest belt of seaweed in the world," says the study's lead author, Mengqiu Wang, an oceanographer at the University of South Florida.

Sargassum is a brown seaweed with large, leaf-like structures and gas-filled "berries," which allow it to stay afloat. It is, unsurprisingly, a defining feature of the Sargasso Sea in the northern Atlantic ocean. Sargassum mats are important habit for fish, birds, turtles and crustaceans. A lot of prized fish we love to eat—including mahi mahi and amberjack—use these tangled marine vines as a place to raise their young. "In open waters, it's a good thing," says Wang. "But when it washes onto the coast, it becomes a coastal nuisance." Or worse.

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