Massive seaweed blob moves toward Florida, could impact both coasts

Seaweed bloom is nearly 5,000 miles wide

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – A giant seaweed blob twice the size of the US is heading toward Florida. It’s already causing health problems with red tide on the West Coast of the state and scientists say it will also have an effect on the East Coast.

“This is a totally new oceanographic phenomenon,” said Dr. Brian LaPointe, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University.

The massive seaweed bloom is nearly 5,000 miles wide and is growing where this type of seaweed hasn’t historically bloomed.

“It wasn’t until 2011 that we began to see this unusual bloom in the central tropical Atlantic Ocean,” said LaPointe.

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LaPointe has been tracking the growth of the brown seaweed called sargassum and said it hit a big spurt this year.

“It doubled in size from January to December and it’s about 30% bigger than it was at this time in 2018,” he said.

Pockets of sargassum washed up on our coast in recent summers, bringing a nasty smell, but LaPointe said this bloom is heading right towards Southwest Florida and even here on the East Coast, he said we’ll likely see much more.

“If we can figure out what the drivers are of this big blob, maybe we can take some actions to mitigate it,” he said.

LaPointe said part of what’s been causing this massive algae bloom to grow over the last few years is the same thing that’s killed most of the seagrass, and ultimately manatees, here in Central Florida in the Indian River Lagoon: run-off pollution with nitrates from fertilizers and other nutrients.

“Saharan dust, biomass burning in Africa, and even natural sources like upwelling,” he said are also contributing factors to the growth.

Lapointe said it’s a habitat for many organisms like shrimp, fish and turtles but when it gets closer to shore, it can block light from getting to coral, and impacts air and water quality as it decomposes, causing a rotten egg smell, fish kills and red tide.

“There are people all around the Caribbean region trying to look at engineering solutions to deal with the problem like blooms to halt it off the beach,” he said.

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