States around the Gulf of Mexico have been following a giant blob of seaweed that formed and started heading toward various beaches.
In March, the blob made landfall at numerous Florida beaches, covering them in seaweed.
Now, the blob is reportedly headed to Galveston, Texas.
But what exactly is it and how concerned should people be about it? Here are some things to know about the seaweed blob.
What is the seaweed blob?
The blob is a collection of sargassum, a type of seaweed that often forms large blooms in the Atlantic Ocean.
Sargassum actually has environment benefits since it can be a floating habitat that provides food and protection for animals and fishes, according to the Sargassum Information Hub.
The size and direction of sargassum blobs can be affected by factors such as rain, wind conditions and changes in nutrients.
How big is the blob?
It’s not unusual for blobs of sargassum to form, but what is unusual about this particular blob is its size. It’s about 5,000 square miles, nearly double the size of the distance between Maine and California. However, it’s important to know the sargassum is separated into smaller clumps within the 5,000 mile radius, and not one singular and giant 5,000 mile clump.
Why is it concerning for humans?
While sargassum can be a helpful ecosystem to animals and fish in water, it poses more environmental threats once it reaches land and beaches.
Sargassum piles up in mounds and emits toxins and a horrid smell that can be harmful for the respiratory system.
It can also wash up near shores and suck oxygen out of water, which can affect fish and other ocean life who live along shores.
What should people do when they see sargassum along beaches?
The City of Galveston on its Twitter page released a list of cleanup practices that are permitted, and others that aren’t permitted:
- Only remove sargassum and vegetative debris a minimum of 8-feet wide and 6-inches tall (perpendicular to the shoreline).
- Relocate sargassum and vegetative debris directly to the dune area.
- Cleanup is limited to the use of front-end loaders, mechanized beach rake and tractors with rakes.
- Only do cleanup procedures during daylight hours.
- Working within four feet landward of the swash zone. Sargassum is to remain on the beach.
- Removing sand from the beach.
- Removing sargassum and vegetative debris from the same area more than once per day.
- Use of heavy equipment such as a road grader, skid steer, or steel-tracked equipment.
According to an NPR report, sargassum levels have been rising considerably since 2011, so much so that satellite images have been able to capture them.