If you’re planning a beach vacation in South Florida this summer, you’re in luck. The huge quantities of sargassum have finally left our shores. Sargassum is a brown and often smelly floating algae that is abundant in the ocean.
When you view the alga up close, you will notice leafy appendages, branches, and round berry-like structures. These pneumatocysts add buoyancy to the algae, allowing them to float to the surface, often in large clumps or “smears” that can sometimes stretch for miles across the ocean.
But when these clumps of sargassum come ashore, they can create an unpleasant experience for bathers.
Aerial images show us an amazing view of the coastline before and after the sargassum took over, and scientists are still trying to figure out how exactly the vast amounts of seaweed disappeared.
This year, the sargassum season started earlier than usual, but experts say it also ended earlier than usual.
In May, scientists at the University of South Florida began noticing a decline in the amount of algae in the Gulf of Mexico. But according to USF professor Dr. Chuanmin Hu, in June it was even more noticeable.
“In June 2023, the decline was dramatic,” Dr. Hu said. “The amount that decreased was beyond our prediction. Three-quarters of the amount has disappeared.”
Dr. Hu explains that many factors may have contributed to the sharp decline in sargassum, but while there is no hard evidence for now, all scientists can do is speculate.
According to the USF professor, the stronger-than-normal winds in June could have pushed the bubbles farther or deeper into the sea.
According to NOAA, the large floating masses of sargassum can serve as food, shelter, and breeding grounds for a wide variety of animals, such as fish, sea turtles, seabirds, crabs, shrimp, and others. Some animals, such as the sargassum fish (of the frogfish family), live their entire lives solely in this habitat.
The sharp decline in algae could affect the ocean ecosystem, but Dr. Hu says that is not a cause for concern. He said that this is a completely normal natural process.
Asked if South Floridians can expect to see the same level of sargassum in the future, he said it’s too early to tell and if this year has taught researchers anything, it’s that this phenomenon is incredibly difficult to predict.
“There are many factors that influence future cycles. “But what I can say is that for the next two months, for this sargassum season, most of the time the beaches will be getting rid of large amounts, although some beaches may see still some small amounts here and there. That does not mean anything. Sargassum season is over.”