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Massive clumps of seaweed from a giant blob are washing up on Florida beaches

Giant seaweed bloom hits Florida coast
Sargassum masses are threatening Florida's environment and tourist economy 03:16

Beachgoers along Florida's east coast are encountering enormous clumps of seaweed from a colossal seaweed blob drifting in from the Atlantic Ocean. Known as sargassum, the brown seaweed has the ability to blanket beaches as far as the eye can see, and the influx could persist for months. 

Oscar Vasquez, who has owned a Miami Beach condo for over 20 years, said he has never seen this much sargassum this early in the season.

"There are parts of the beach where there's so much sargassum on the shoreline where it's undesirable and difficult to get into the water," Vasquez said. 

Specialized tractors tirelessly rake up the brown weed clusters that litter the beaches, yet by each following morning, the seaweed tends to return. The collected sargassum is eventually destined for landfills, but in the interim, it is piled just offshore, emitting a foul odor. 

Vasquez expressed concern over whether he made the right choice in purchasing his retirement property and said the sargassum is not what he bargained for.

While sargassum is a naturally occurring phenomenon, the extent of this year's sargassum bloom has caught the attention of scientists. The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt swelled to an estimated 13.5 million metric tons of seaweed this year, and it could wash up on the beaches of Florida and the Caribbean in the coming months. 

Afeefa Abdool-Ghany, a doctoral candidate studying sargassum at the University of Miami, attributes the phenomenon to a rise in nutrient-rich wastewater resulting from the growing global population. The nutrients, which are discharged into rivers and ultimately reach the ocean, act as fertilizers for the sargassum, contributing to its exponential growth. 

Researchers like Abdool-Ghany are actively investigating potential productive uses for sargassum. 

"Instead of putting it into a landfill, we wanted to compost it into a usable product can be made from it," Abdool-Ghany said. 

The efforts are still in the research stage, and viable solutions are yet to be implemented. In the meantime, Miami-Dade County officials are ensuring daily beach cleanups to protect the region's vital tourism revenue and maintain property values. 

Miami-Dade County has allocated $3.9 million for cleanup efforts this year and are requesting an additional $2 million from the state.  

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava emphasized the delicate balance required to protect both the beaches from sargassum, and the local wildlife. Federal guidelines and permits restrict certain cleanup methods to prevent harm to native species, including sea turtles and fish hatchlings. 

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