The beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean are under threat from a seaweed blanket that measures approximately 5,000 miles in length.
The so-called Great Atlantic Sargassum belt, visible from space, is thought to have many benefits. It may be a habitat for some fish, and carbon dioxide absorption.
However, ocean currents are pushing tons of seaweed onto beaches, creating huge problems.
It can also choke corals and cause havoc to coastal ecosystems.
Brian LaPointe, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbour Branch Oceanographic Institute said to NBC, “It is incredible.”
“What we see in satellite imagery doesn’t bode well for clean beaches.”
Sargassum has been studied by Mr LaPointe for over 40 years. He said that large piles of Sargassum often come ashore in South Florida in May. However, beaches in Key West are already being inundated.
Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum are among the parts of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that are ready for Sargassum to grow up over the next few days.
Brian Barnes, assistant research professor at University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science, stated that even if the debris is not in coastal waters it can block intake valves for desalination or power plants. Marinas can become inundated, and boats cannot navigate through.
It can threaten critical infrastructure.
After unusually high levels of sargassum led to water shortages in St Croix, the US Virgin Islands declared an emergency last summer.
Professor Barnes and colleagues at the University of South Florida use NASA satellite data for mapping the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt’s movements and locations.
He said that the bloom’s recent size would have been unimaginable ten years ago.
“Historically, Sargassum was a part the ecosystem as far as we can find records. But the scale is now much greater.
“What we thought was a major blossom five years ago is now just a blip.”