Researchers at the University of South Florida say a type of seaweed called sargassum has been spreading far and wide since 2011. They’ve dubbed it the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt in their findings, which appear in the journal Science. It’s begun covering beaches in Florida, while nearly 20 tons of it stretch from West Africa to the Caribbean.
The sargassum boom is the result of two developments, including runoff from the Amazon River and changes in ocean composition.
The seaweed doesn’t pose a threat in open water, but it can create problems for marine life and coral reefs, as well as lure insects onto beaches.
There’s also the fact that the sargassum, which can turn water brown, has a foul odor, putting a dent in the beachgoing experience.
It’s already become an issue in Mexico where people have to sift through piles of the seaweed before even getting into the water. The state where Cancun is located has responded to the matter by declaring a state of emergency, with officials in the country worried the problem may have a negative impact on tourism.
“This is one of the biggest challenges that climate change has caused for the world,” the government of Mexico’s coastal state of Quintana Roo told the Associated Press. “This challenge requires a joint, multinational effort and a global commitment.”
The sargassum could continue to spread up the East Coast, and one member of the research team said things aren’t bound to change anytime soon.
“Based on the last 20 years of data, I can say that the belt is likely to be a new normal,” researcher Chuanmin Hu told the Tampa Bay Times.