Mother Nature looks to be handing some of Florida’s most popular beaches a double whammy, with smelly algae accumulating just in time for thousands of spring breakers to descend on the Sunshine State.
A toxic algae bloom known as a red tide has been killing fish along the Gulf Coast and southern Florida, kicking up the stench of decay.
Now, a massive blob of seaweed twice as wide as the U.S. is drifting across the Atlantic Ocean and could wash ashore in Florida in the coming months, creating an even bigger mess.
It’s not just the smell that’s a concern. The ocean breeze can carry a toxin released by the red tide ashore, which can cause health problems for people including coughing, irritated throat and itchy eyes.
But more serious respiratory effects must also be considered.
“Floridians along the Gulf Coast are probably most familiar with Karenia brevis, the organism that causes our own red tides, which can result in massive fish kills, the deaths of marine mammals, sea turtles, sea birds and for humans, neurotoxic shellfish poisoning and respiratory impacts, especially for those with asthma and other chronic respiratory conditions,” say researchers at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.
For those planning a Florida trip for spring break or in the coming weeks and months, tourism sites do have some advice for dealing with the red tide, which in some cases can be as simple as moving a few yards down the beach. Read more.
A New York Post headline, “Scantily clad spring break revelers let out pent-up rage in boozy beach brawls” indicates that stinky beaches may not be putting all the college kids off.
A recent red tide map shows that red tide is present in beach locations north of the Tampa Bay area to points south of Naples. The current red tide outbreak has been detected as far north as Pasco County and as south as the Florida Keys in Monroe County.
The algae occurs naturally and is not new to coastal areas, but professors at Florida Gulf Coast University are looking into whether pollution is making the blooms worse.
“The big concern is now that our coastlines are more developed and there’s a lot more people in Florida than there used to be. How are we affecting water quality and how is that affecting red tide?” Mike Parsons, a marine science professor at the school, said in an on-air interview with CBS News.
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.