Locals in Florida are experiencing respiratory problems, skin irritation, and toxicity as a result of the sargassum seaweed clump along their shores.
The enormous seaweed clump that has been gradually drifting is now washing up on Florida's beaches throughout the state and could be dangerous for nearby people and wildlife.
Sargassum seaweed makes up the blob of seaweed that has been making headlines and has an approximate diameter of 5,000 miles. The Sargasso Sea is home to this species of seaweed, which can also spread widely across the Atlantic to form the "Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt."
The seaweed clump was estimated to have contained a record amount of sargassum in March and April, about 13 million tons, by scientists at the Optical Oceanography Lab at the University of South Florida.
The bloom occurs every year; however, people and animals may now be at risk from the rotting seaweed's harmful health effects as it covers beaches throughout Florida and the Caribbean.
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Anyone with impaired lung function should avoid areas where sargassum blooms are present, according to Kait Parker, a Weather Company atmospheric scientist. When the seaweed decomposes, hydrogen sulfide is released, which has the smell of rotten eggs and can irritate the respiratory system.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sargassum is a type of brown floating algae that, under the right circumstances, starts to rot. The seaweed begins to rot as it accumulates on the beaches where it washes up, emitting a foul odor as well as hazardous substances like hydrogen sulfide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breathing hydrogen sulfide can lead to respiratory issues as well as eye irritation. Significant exposure to hydrogen sulfide can result in symptoms like convulsions, nausea, headaches, dizziness, and weakness.
Following a 20 million-ton sargassum bloom in Guadalupe and Martinique in 2018, more than 11,000 cases of acute sargassum toxicity were reported in the eight months that followed. These cases included heart palpitations, dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, and skin rashes.
Parker also cautions locals against eating sargassum because it contains heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic. Due to the microorganisms that live inside of it, it can irritate the skin and should be professionally cleaned.
Stephen Leatherman, professor of coastal science at Florida International University, is advising people with respiratory conditions to stay away from the beaches while the clump of seaweed is still found along the shores. It is also best to close windows and doors if they live close to the coast. Sargassum covers the beaches because they are not particularly wide or long.
Additionally, the seaweed can clog intakes, as was the case in July of last year when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the US Virgin Islands declared an emergency due to sargassum-filled intakes at a desalination plant.
These massive sargassum blooms can affect wildlife as well. It typically offers food and shelter to hundreds of species, including many turtles, birds, and invertebrates. However, if the blooms grow too big or dense, they may deprive seagrasses and coral reefs of the sunlight they require for photosynthesis or consume a lot of the water's oxygen, leaving little room for fish.
According to the Optical Oceanography Lab at the University of South Florida, the peak of sargassum season is expected in June, with the seaweed's effects lasting through July. Furthermore, the size of sargassum blooms has been increasing in recent years, with the amount of seaweed from 2017 to 2022 roughly doubling that of the previous six years. That could be a result of increased fertilizer release into rivers, which eventually end up in the oceans, causing blooms of algae like sargassum.
Leatherman explained the chain reaction of turning the Amazon into agricultural lands. The fertilizer needed for the process is carried by the Amazon River into the Sargassum belt, Newsweek reports.
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