What’s that smell? Tons of stinky seaweed covers Central Florida coast

Sargassum is coming in record numbers to Florida beaches

If you plan on hitting the beach anytime soon, you might be met by a bad smell and sand covered in brown seaweed.

PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. – If you plan on hitting the beach anytime soon, you might be met by a bad smell and sand covered in brown seaweed.

Researchers said the seaweed, called sargassum, is coming in record numbers this year to Central Florida’s coast and unfortunately, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

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It’s an unpleasant surprise that shows up in pockets along the coast every summer, but this year, the amount found is setting records.

It used to mostly grow in the Northern Atlantic but researchers said over the last decade, it’s been growing quickly in the Tropical Atlantic. University of South Florida scientists even measured an increase this year, seeing stinky seaweed numbers increase from 18 million tons in May to 24 million tons in June.

“This is a bloom that is 8,850 kilometers long. It’s the biggest algae bloom in the world,” said Dr. Brian LaPointe, a researcher with Florida Atlantic University.

LaPointe said they’ve been studying it for the last decade and found that it’s fed by nitrogen.

“More nitrogen from human activities—like deforestation, biomass burning in Africa, for example, wastewater with just increasing human population growth, fertilizers—it’s fostering what we refer to now as harmful algal blooms,” he said. “It’s exactly what we’re also seeing in the Indian River Lagoon killing the seagrasses causing the starvation in the manatees. This is just on a much larger scale.”

The growth in sargassum is also something News 6′s team of meteorologists are watching due to rain increases.

“So, we’re seeing a lot more runoff that contains fertilizers that run off into the Mississippi River, the Amazon River and then get out into the ocean so these big blooms can feed off of that,” meteorologist Jonathan Kegges said.

He said the Saharan Dust also powers it and then it finds its way to Central Florida’s coast.

“The gulf stream runs so close to the counties. It’s right up it so if you get some of that developing in the Caribbean, it’s going to find that gulf stream current and ride right up the Florida straits and then right up our coast,” Kegges added.

Researchers said the East Coast of the state should get a break by the fall.

“July is typically the maximum amount for biomass of sargassum in terms of arriving here so we’re going to have probably another month or maybe two months,” LaPointe said.

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About the Author:

Molly joined News 6 at the start of 2021, returning home to Central Florida.