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Will there be seaweed, red tide on Florida beaches for Spring Break 2024?

A near-record amount of seaweed is sprouting in the Atlantic Ocean on a westward track that could bring the prickly pelagic flora to Florida later this spring.

Thankfully, no red tide has been detected at any Florida beaches. Red tide is an algae that produces a toxin that, when inhaled, can cause respiratory symptoms in people.

But University of South Florida scientists said in January that nearly 5 million metric tons of sargassum was measured in December, far above the roughly 1 million metric tons recorded at the same time the previous year.

The amount has since multiplied to about 9 million metric as tons as of last month, representing the second-highest total amount of sargassum on record for February.

While the mat of sargassum, which stretches from the Lesser Antilles to near the African coast, is moving west into the Caribbean Sea, it’s unlikely to reach Florida this month.

The March sargassum outlook from USF’s Optical Oceanography Lab says the southeast coast of Florida, including the Florida Keys, will remain largely free of sargassum until at least late April or May. That will keep the beaches clear for the annual college student pilgrimages to sites from Miami Beach to Daytona Beach to Panama City Beach.

Very little sargassum was growing in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea early this year, but it was flourishing in the western Atlantic and represented a new record amount of growth in the eastern Atlantic. The report notes that heavy cloud cover during the second half of February may have obstructed satellite capabilities meaning the value in the “eastern Atlantic may be subject to large uncertainties.”

Sargassum is a lifeline for fish nurseries, hungry migratory birds and sea turtle hatchlings seeking shelter in its buoyant saltwater blooms. But in mass quantities, it chokes life from canals, clogs boat propellers and is a killjoy at the beach, piling up several feet deep like a rotting bog emitting hydrogen sulfide as it decomposes.

It’s generally safe to swim in, but can turn the water an uninviting brown and be uncomfortable when it scratches against your skin.

“I’ve been in it to where it’s really hard to move through,” said surfer Cameron Koehler, an employee at Nomad Surf Shop near Briny Breezes in a January interview. “It can be super itchy, like a plastic feel with a bunch of little thorns.”

It’s too early to know how much seaweed will reach Florida’s beaches, if any, but it has shown up in varying degrees and depths during every major growth year, hitching a ride on the loop current to assail the Keys and areas north from Miami to Jacksonville.

Is climate change to blame for all the sargassum seaweed?

A 2020 report that included research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration linked the proliferation of sargassum in the tropical Atlantic Ocean to a 2009-2010 change to the negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation, or NAO.

The negative phase of the jet stream meddling NAO means a strong shift in winds to the west and south. Those winds flushed enough sargassum out of the Sargasso Sea, which stretches from around Bermuda east to the central Atlantic, to establish a colony in the tropical Atlantic Ocean.

There, the sargassum got more sunshine and a high dose of nutrients from upwelling ocean waters, according to the report published in the journal Progress in Oceanography in March 2020.

NOAA scientists said earlier this year that it’s unknown if climate change led to the severe NAO shift in 2009-2010 but that humans help feed the sargassum bloom with higher nutrient discharges from rivers, such as the Amazon, where deforestation is occurring.

Higher rainfall amounts caused by a warmer climate can also mean more runoff from other rivers that exacerbate the bloom, including the Mississippi River and the Orinoco River in South America.

Will there be red tide in Florida for spring break?

No red tide has been detected as of March 1 at any Florida beaches, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s weekly report.

Red tide is an algae formally known as the single-cell Karenia brevis. It produces a toxin as a defense mechanism that, when inhaled, can cause respiratory symptoms in people, such as coughing, wheezing and sore throats. In marine life, it’s a killer that affects the nervous system and can cause paralysis.

In February 2023, a minuscule amount of red tide was detected near the Juno Beach Pier in mid-February, but subsequent tests showed Palm Beach County beaches clear of red tide.

What about sea life? Spring breakers should be wary of some critters

Portuguese men-of-war look like harmless purple balloons on the beach, but their lengthy tentacles can cause extreme pain if touched.

While serious reactions to a man-of-war sting are rare, if the tentacles get wrapped around a person, they can stick to the skin, causing lines of red welts that can last for several days. Tentacles can still cause stings after being broken up in rough surf or even after the man-of-war washes ashore and dies.

Although often confused with a jellyfish, the man-of-war is actually a siphonophore, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A siphonophore is composed of different organisms with various functions all working together as one.

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Massive blob of sargassum seaweed reaching Florida beaches

To the disappointment of Floridians and vacationers alike, a record-breaking giant blob of smelly and annoying sargassum seaweed has reached the shores of the Sunshine State after traveling for weeks over the open sea.

Piles of sargassum — an accumulation of large brown algae that floats in mass quantities — can stretch for miles across the ocean and are a beneficial habitat for marine species such as fish, sea turtles, crabs and shrimp.

But the massive chunks are an annoyance for beachgoers when the stinky mass reaches the shore, as the overabundant lumps of seaweed emit the foul, pungent scent of hydrogen sulfide as they decompose. The unbearable smell, comparable to rotten eggs, has even been known to cause respiratory issues for those with breathing problems.

And with the amount of sargassum set to increase during the peak bloom months of June and July, officials in Florida are getting nervous about its potential impacts on residents and vacationers — and on the local economy.

“Our beach could literally be clean at 8 a.m. and three to four hours later a giant mat of sargassum the size of a mall will come in like the blob, like a Stephen King movie,” Boynton Beach Ocean Rescue Chief Tom Mahady told the Palm Beach Post. “It’s not pleasant for swimmers.”

Video obtained by NPR the first week of May shows the massive sargassum bloom impacting beachgoers along the Florida Keys in Marathon, with the typically blue ocean covered several feet deep with the algae’s brownish hue.

“Onshore, the seaweed can be a nuisance, cutting off access to beaches, hampering use of coastal waters, disrupting coastal ecosystems, and making a huge, stinking mess as it decomposes,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate website states. The organization is working on a weekly risk assessment for beaches at risk of a sargassum incursion.

In April, sargassum levels in the Caribbean Sea broke records, with the massive algae belt growing to an estimated 13 million tons in size, according to the University of South Florida Optical Oceanography lab. The Caribbean Sea sargassum belt was observed at 3 million tons in size. Sargassum has also been reported on beaches in southern regions of Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.

The South Florida optical oceanography lab reported in 2019 that sargassum growth is tied to higher nutrient levels in runoff from the Amazon River, as well as upwelling in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, when the water rises up from beneath the surface to replace water that was pushed away by winds blowing across the ocean surface. Upwelling in the Atlantic brings cooler water and nutrients to the surface, where sargassum grows.

Brian LaPointe, a research professor and algae expert at Florida Atlantic University, told the Palm Beach Post that sargassum overgrowth is also due to the seaweed building on itself, starting each new crop with ample seed material.

“It really becomes a problem when it piles up … it literally fills man-made canals, coming right up in front of people’s homes and surrounding docks,” LaPointe said.

The massive quantities can also clog boat propellers, impacting another popular summer activity for Florida residents and tourists.

In 2019, a buildup of sargassum at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park near Miami got it knocked off a ranking of America’s best beaches. A 2020 report by Monroe County officials stated that large sargassum growth could lead to a $20 million loss for the Key West tourism industry, leading to a loss of around 300 jobs.

Palm Beach has also fallen victim to the bothersome seaweed in recent years, with town council member Bobbie Lindsay commenting that the beach was “unusable” for much of last summer due to the rotten smell and the sargassum “scratching your thighs” as residents and tourists walked the beach.

To combat the growth this time, Palm Beach officials plan to either bury the sargassum on the island’s north end — or remove it entirely if there is too much to bury. Another suggestion, made by LaPointe, was to keep the seaweed in “floating barriers” off the coast, something areas of the Keys have begun to use, along with Mexico’s Tulum National Park.

Others are attempting out-of-the-box ideas to combat the growth, including the U.K. group, Seaweed Generation, and its AlgaRay autonomous robot, which could drag sargassum patches into the ocean and sink the algae 1,000 meters below the surface. The AlgaRay technology is still in its pilot phase but could be ready to operate as soon as 2024.

“It’s a bit like a seaweed Roomba,” Seaweed Generation CEO Paddy Estridge told NPR. “It goes through the water very, very slowly and, a bit like Pac-Man, scoops up the seaweed.”

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Michigan birthday party crash: Police release mugshot of suspected drunken driver accused of killing 2 kids

Michigan authorities have released the name and mugshot of the suspect who police say crashed a car into a boat club, killing two children and injuring nearly a dozen others.

Newport resident Marshella Marie Chidester, 66, was charged with two counts of second-degree homicide on Tuesday, according to a press release from the Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. She was also charged with two counts of operating while intoxicated causing death, and four counts of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury.

On the afternoon, authorities received reports of a driver plowing into the Swan Boat Club in Berlin Township. A birthday party was happening in the building at the time of the crash.

The car plunged 25 feet into the boat club, killing Alanah Phillips, 8, and Zayn Phillips, 5. The two were siblings.

Nine people were seriously injured and transported to local hospitals for treatment. Authorities announced yesterday that a 31-year-old woman and 11-year-old boy are both being treated for critical injuries — two victims that have been identified as the Phillips’ mother and brother, according to the children’s aunt.

Authorities also said that a 16-year-old girl, a 14-year-old boy, and an 18-year-old woman are all in “serious” condition and are currently receiving treatment.

Four women between the ages of 57 and 70 were taken to hospitals for minor injuries, and a tenth injured person found treatment on his own.

At a press conference hours after the tragedy occurred, Monroe County Sheriff Troy Goodnough teared up as he described the horrific scene.

“The scene was just described by the first responders as extremely chaotic, with a high level of emotions of those directly involved and those who witnessed this horrific incident,” he said.

“The Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate this incident to ensure we have identified all of those who were injured or witnessed this incident,” the sheriff’s office said in a press release on Monday. “We will update the public as more information is developed.”

According to officials, Chidester’s murder charges carry a maximum punishment of life in prison. She could face a maximum of 15 years in prison for each driving while intoxicated and causing death charge, and a maximum of five years for the other charges. If convicted, Chidester’s fines could be anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000.

After the incident, Chidester was transported to Monroe County Jail. She is being held on a bond of $1,500,000. Her next court appearances are booked for Apr. 30 and May 6.

Anyone with information that may help investigators is urged to call the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office at 734-240-7530.

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Michigan grandmother helped her granddaughter beat up another student in an elementary school bathroom

A Michigan grandmother allegedly helped her granddaughter beat up a fellow student at an elementary school, according to officials.

Mt. Morris Township Police said the grandmother and her granddaughter were dropped off at McMonagle Elementary School for a behavioral meeting, WNEM reported.

The grandmother saw another girl her granddaughter was not getting along with, so she and her granddaughter followed the girl into a bathroom, where the grandmother is accused of holding down the girl while her granddaughter punched her.

McMonagle Elementary School spokesperson Jamal Bransford said in a statement to WNEM that no other children were injured after the incident and that administrators are investigating how the grandmother managed to bypass security protocols and gain unauthorized access to the school premises.

“On Thursday, April 18 an unfortunate incident transpired at McMonagle Elementary School involving a grandparent of a student who managed to circumvent security protocols and gain unauthorized access to the school premises,” Bransford said. “The Mt. Morris Township Police Department immediately investigated this incident. It is crucial to emphasize that no other children in the school were involved or harmed during this incident.”

“The safety and security of our students are topmost concern,” he continued. “Our school administration is diligently implementing all necessary measures to ensure that such breaches of security are prevented in the future.”

The grandmother was taken into police custody and is being held at the Genesee County Jail.

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Crazy plane lady, Tiffany Gomas comes out as ‘anti-woke’ with bikini-and-beer pic

The Texas woman who became famous after having an outburst on a plane last year seemingly came out as conservative-leaning on X this week.

Tiffany Gomas, who was dubbed “Crazy plane lady” last summer after her July 2 flare-up went viral on social media, publicized her “anti-woke” views on X.

On Wednesday, Gomas posted a mirror selfie of herself wearing a red, white and blue bikini while holding a can of Ultra Right Beer, an “anti-woke” company.

“Wonder how many people I’m gonna piss off with this post,” the Texas resident captioned the photo.

The picture, which racked up over 55,000 likes, received positive attention from conservative social media users.

“Liberals have nothing on conservative women. Looking good, Tiffany!” one commentator wrote.

“Why don’t liberal women look like this?” another said.

A day after posting the swimsuit picture, Gomas alluded to some more of her right-wing views and referenced “triggering” people on the app.

“Think I need to write a book on ‘how to trigger people.’ Ooof,” she tweeted

On Friday, she weighed in on the hot topic of biological men playing in women’s sports.

“So… is now an appropriate time to tell y’all men don’t belong in women’s sports?!” she wrote on X.

“Wow didn’t realize yore [sic] a bigot as well as a fascist. Yore [sic] on a roll,” a critic said.

“Don’t use words that you don’t know the definition of,” Gomas shot back.

The social media star became famous last summer because of a video that appeared to show her earnestly frightened by a supernatural force on an American Airlines flight. She was filmed walking down the plane’s aisle while deplaning, telling passengers that something “back there is not real.”

“I don’t give two f—s, but I am telling you right now, that motherf—–  back there is not real,” she yelled.

In November, Gomas later told Barstool Sports’ “Pardon My Take” podcast that the situation stemmed from an “altercation” with a fellow passenger.

“You know, the reason I probably haven’t come out yet, ’cause it’s like so cringe – I did not see anything,” she said. “So I got in a bit of an altercation. It spiraled out of control. It was not my best moment.”

“I mean, it was actually a horrible moment,” she added. “It’s absolutely mortifying.”

Fox News Digital reached out to Gomas and Ultra Right Beer for comment, but did not immediately hear back.

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Caitlin Clark: A Rising Star in College Basketball

Caitlin Clark has quickly become one of the most notable stars in college basketball. Her exceptional skills on the court have gained her numerous accolades and a dedicated fanbase. Let’s take a closer look at her career, personal life, and net worth.

Caitlin Clark’s Basketball Career

Caitlin Clark is a standout guard for the Iowa Hawkeyes. She has made a name for herself with her impressive scoring ability, playmaking, and leadership on the court. Since her freshman year, Clark has consistently displayed outstanding performance, earning herself various awards and honors, including being named a consensus All-American.

Her style of play is characterized by her exceptional three-point shooting, impressive court vision, and knack for scoring in high-pressure situations. This has made her one of the most exciting players to watch in college basketball.

Caitlin Clark’s Personal Life and Boyfriend

While Caitlin Clark has been open about her basketball career and dedication to the sport, she prefers to keep her personal life relatively private. There is little information available about her dating life or whether she currently has a boyfriend. It is not uncommon for athletes, particularly those in the public eye, to choose to keep their personal relationships private in order to focus on their careers.

Clark’s focus remains on her performance on the court and her academic studies. Fans appreciate her dedication and commitment to excelling both as a student and as an athlete.

Caitlin Clark’s Net Worth

Caitlin Clark’s net worth is difficult to estimate precisely, as it can be influenced by various factors such as endorsements, potential sponsorships, and her future career in professional basketball. Being a college athlete, Clark’s income opportunities may be limited, but with the recent changes in NCAA rules allowing athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL), she could benefit from brand partnerships and sponsorships.

As she progresses in her career, both at the college level and potentially in professional basketball, her net worth is likely to grow significantly. Clark’s talent and marketability suggest that she could become one of the most well-known and successful athletes in women’s basketball.

Caitlin Clark’s basketball career is marked by exceptional achievements and a promising future. While she keeps her personal life private, her focus remains on her performance and success on the court. As she continues to make waves in the sport, her net worth and influence are expected to rise.

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Caitlin Clark rocks Prada outfit close to $17,000 for 2024 WNBA Draft

Caitlin Clark, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft to the Indiana Fever, turned heads on the night when she walked the orange carpet in style with a full outfit from Prada.

The designer threads certainly weren’t cheap either.

Prada has never dressed anyone for the NBA or WNBA Draft until Monday night when Clark showed up most likely knowing she was heading to the Fever as the first overall pick following her illustrious college career at Iowa.

Business Insider saw the photos from the orange carpet appearance by Clark and determined her Prada outfit, including accessories, was worth almost $17,000.

First, Clark donned an embroidered rhinestone mesh crop top ($3,750), which was under a satin shirt ($5,500) and paired with a double satin miniskirt ($1,750). On her feet were black brushed leather slingback pumps that go for $1,200.

As for the accessories, Clark was holding a black Prada Galleria patent leather mini bag for $4,100, and had help blocking out the camera crews taking her picture with acetate sunglasses worth $575.

The entire look was put together by stylist Adri Zgirdea Toth, who told Marie Claire how “perfect” it was to dress Clark.

“Dressing an athlete for the draft is a first for Prada, and this is obviously a first for Caitlin, too. Both are at the forefront of what they do – it’s almost too perfect,” Toth explained.

Clark spoke to GQ Sports while walking the orange carpet, saying, “I love Prada. I think Prada is very me.”

While Clark’s outfit received tons of positive feedback as she celebrated her dream of going to the WNBA, some pointed out the fact that the fit costs about 22% of her rookie year salary ($16,875).

Clark’s four-year rookie deal is worth $338,056, according to the WNBA’s CBA. The CBA also states that the first four picks of the Draft — Cameron Brink, Kamilla Cardoso and Rickea Jackson were picked Nos. 2, 3 and 4 respectively after Clark — will make $76,535 in 2024. The numbers will increase to $78,066 in 2025, $85,873 in 2026, and if a fourth-year option is exercised in 2027, the price tag will be $97,582.

These numbers have caused social media debate, especially considering how much of a superstar Clark already has been over the past two seasons with the Hawkeyes on her way to breaking the NCAA’s all-time scoring record.

Of course, Clark and other WNBA rookies will have endorsements on their side. Clark’s name, image and likeness valuation at Iowa was valued at over $3 million, with deals including Nike, State Farm, Gatorade and Xfinity.

However, when comparing the eventual No. 1 pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, who will get at least $10 million in guaranteed salary, it’s a big deal.

But while sports stars like Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson are calling for the WNBA to pay more, Clark’s words on Monday night showed her focus stays on the court, as she hopes to lead the Fever to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 next season

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Should you be worried about seaweed ruining your vacation?

“Massive seaweed blob invades Florida beaches.”

“Huge, smelly snake of seaweed headed toward the Caribbean.”

Though the headlines sound like something from a 1950s horror movie, sargassum — a type of seaweed — is a naturally occurring plant that, under normal circumstances, shouldn’t be a major cause of concern for beachgoers.

Does this year’s sargassum have the potential to sour your seaside vacation in the coming months? TPG spoke with oceanography experts to find out.

What is sargassum?

Sargassum is a large, brown seaweed — the common name for various species of marine plants and algae — that floats along the ocean’s surface.

In healthy amounts, sargassum is a critical habitat for sea creatures. Animals like small fish, crabs, mollusks and even young sea turtles hang out around patches of sargassum for shelter and because the smaller residents provide a food resource for the larger ones.

Sargassum is neither destructive nor harmful under normal circumstances, even when left unattended on beaches. When it accumulates in massive amounts, however, it can have a negative impact on the ecosystem and local economies.

Should you be concerned about sargassum in 2024?

Technically referred to as the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, the annual sargassum bloom isn’t actually one continuous blob. Some patches can be miles long and tens of meters wide, while others can be more scattered and dispersed; together, they cover an area “several hundred miles wide across the Atlantic,” according to Sea Education Association professor of oceanography Jeffrey M. Schell.

If you recall, 2023 saw a record sargassum bloom measuring close to 200% larger than what was present in 2022. The larger bloom resulted in record levels of sargassum washing up on beaches in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. When conditions were at their worst, affected beaches could have meter-high sargassum piles covering the entire beach.

When sargassum is as thick and plentiful as last year, it can cause major trouble both at sea and on the beach.

“Large amounts of sinking sargassum can smother corals and seagrasses, while rotten sargassum smells bad and may cause respiratory problems to humans,” Yuyuan Xie — an oceanographer in the Optical Oceanography Laboratory at the University of South Florida whose laboratory works with the satellite-based Sargassum Watch System —

“On beaches, large amounts of rotten seaweed are harmful to animals and humans because they attract insects, harbor bacteria and smell quite bad as it decomposes,” Xie said.

Based on satellite imagery from a quarterly bulletin provided by The Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies at The University of the West Indies, Barbados, there is about 40% less sargassum visible in the Atlantic Ocean than there was at this time last year.

“There is definitely sargassum out there, and it’s already starting to make its way into the Eastern Caribbean,” Schell said. “So even though the bloom is about 50% smaller than last year, those beaches in the Eastern Caribbean are probably seeing a fair amount of sargassum wash on the shore, though not as much as they had this time last year.”

Xie also noted that this year’s outlook is more favorable than last.

“So far, this year is better than last year, and this situation is likely to continue in the next few months,” Xie said. “Florida will be largely free of sargassum until at least late May.”

Should you cancel your upcoming beach vacation?

First and foremost, not every beach in a given area will be affected by this pernicious seaweed. Winds, currents and tides help determine where exactly sargassum will accumulate and wash ashore.

Although this year’s predictions are mild to moderate, some beachgoers will still see sargassum during their vacation.

“For islands in the Lesser Antilles, the windward sides are more likely to see some of that sargassum,” Schell said. “But it’s still at a medium level compared to the scale that they have been.”

Beaches along the eastern Caribbean Sea are already seeing some sargassum, but the southeast coast of Florida and the Florida Keys look to be in the clear until May, according to Xie.

While there’s still the possibility of sargassum on the beach during your vacation, the experts we spoke with promised this is not a reason to cancel your trip. Typically, not all beaches in an area will be affected, meaning you always have the option to pop over to a nearby beach.

“You should still go on vacation,” Schell said. “There may be some sargassum in the next couple of months, but not enough that it should be getting in your way.”

It may be difficult to determine which beaches will be affected and when, but an entire city or beach community should not be inundated with sargassum to the point that you can’t enjoy some fun in the sun. Be prepared to visit a variety of nearby beaches and plan a few alternate activities, like visiting an aquarium or botanical garden, as a backup plan.

What can be done to mitigate the problem?

Affected beach destinations also have cleanup initiatives to help keep their beaches looking beautiful and inviting to visitors.

“The local management agencies typically remove large amounts of seaweed from the beach before it decomposes,” Xie said.

“We’ve yet to find a silver bullet,” Schell said, “but sargassum can be collected at sea or on the beach. It is a habitat, though, so we have to be mindful and respectful of the animals who call sargassum home.”

The majority of current cleanup efforts focus on removing sargassum from the beach after it washes ashore; they use tools as simple as rakes and wheelbarrows in addition to more futuristic methods like beach-cleaning robots.

The issue then becomes what to do with it. Many beaches bury the sargassum under the sand to keep it from being a nuisance, but some creative cleanup initiatives are happening as well.

Fort Lauderdale has instituted a seaweed composting program that transforms seaweed into soil that can be used for city planting projects, saving the city tens of thousands of dollars annually.

The Rum & Sargassum program in St. James, Barbados, is creating an inexpensive, alternative fuel source for vehicles using locally sourced waste products like rum distillery wastewater, sheep manure and sargassum.

According to Schell, these innovations (and those that are still being developed) are a boon to cleanup efforts and the bottom line.

“The money involved in cleanup and the impact on local fishing activity and tourism has a tremendous economic impact on beach communities,” he said. “Any economic return found by creating a product it can be turned into can make a big difference.”

What’s in store for this year’s sargassum bloom?

Because sargassum undergoes seasonal growth cycles, some years are worse than others, and researchers are still trying to fully understand these cycles. They have observed that this year’s bloom may largely die off before it washes ashore because water temperatures are creeping higher.

“In the North Atlantic, the water is already two degrees warmer than we should be this time of the year,” Schell said.

Last year also saw warming water temperatures, leading the sargassum bloom to die off in June. Schell is predicting a similar cause and effect this year.

“My guess is that the bloom is going to die early. The temperatures are going to warm up too fast,” he said. “We are already seeing water temperatures around the bloom hit 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 Fahrenheit), and the bloom will likely break up when we hit 30 degrees Celsius.”

Xie’s data backs this up. In the 2024 sargassum bloom outlook from the University of South Florida College of Marine Science, Xie and his colleagues noted that the total sargassum bloom has already decreased from 9 million metric tons in February to about 6.5 million metric tons in March.

They interpret this decline to mean that while levels are higher this year and last than in previous years, the coastal regions in the western Caribbean Sea should receive small to moderate amounts of sargassum by late April or early May; the southeast coast of Florida (including the Florida Keys) shouldn’t see much Sargassum until late May.

Shook up about sargassum? Don’t be.

Though some beaches are seeing sargassum wash ashore, levels are already proving to be much lower than the record-breaking amounts in 2023. Beach communities are well practiced in cleaning up seaweed, and researchers like Schell and Xie are hard at work understanding sargassum and how to minimize the problems it can cause.

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Giant blobs of seaweed are hitting Florida. That’s when the real problem begins

It used to be that the conversation around subtropical marine life centered on declines: the death of coral beds, the diminishing variety of seagrasses, the disappearance of fish.

But for now, it’s an overabundance that’s hard to miss. From Montego to Miami, an influx of algae called sargassum is leaving stinky brown carpets over what was once prime tourist sand. It’s the most sargassum researchers have tracked this early in the year.

Deciding what to do with it is proving more challenging the more we learn about it — and inspiring some entrepreneurs to rethink removing sargassum altogether.

Wait, what is sargassum and why is it flourishing?

Sargassum is a type of buoyant, rootless algae that bunches up in islands and floats around the ocean.

Patches of sargassum have been spotted in the Atlantic Ocean for centuries, but since 2011, a 5,000-mile-long belt of the seaweed has circulated annually between the Gulf of Mexico and the mid-Atlantic.

The density of that belt’s clusters keeps increasing, possibly because modern agriculture techniques are sending more and more nutrients downstream and into the ocean.

Just this April, sargassum levels in the Caribbean Sea reached a new record, with the overall belt growing to an estimated 13 million tons, according to a bulletin from the University of South Florida Optical Oceanography lab.

And the top bloom season is still days away, with a peak likely to hit in June or July. If the past is precedent, the size of the belt in July could be double what it is in April, says Brian Barnes, a researcher at USF’s College of Marine Science.

It’s hard to predict what this could mean for beaches, especially in the eastern Atlantic where persistent clouds are obscuring the satellite views that Barnes and his team rely on.

But already, sargassum beachings are increasing, with the southern regions of Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico looking likely to be the most impacted.

Ignoring it can be dangerous — and odorous

Once ashore, sargassum isn’t just unsightly or cumbersome to swim around — it stinks. The seaweed starts to decay within 24 hours of hitting the shore, releasing hydrogen sulfide and the smell of rotten eggs.

There’s some evidence to show that those gases can cause nausea and headaches or aggravate respiratory issues. In 2018, doctors on the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique reported more than 11,000 cases of “acute sargassum toxicity” during an eight-month period of intense beach buildup,

But even the smell alone can be costly.

Take the Florida city of Key West for example. Public Information Officer Alyson Crean says Key West isn’t even really a beach town, with the largest public beach stretching only about half a mile in length.

But a 2020 analysis found that 1 in 10 tourists say they’d either cancel or reschedule their trip to Key West if they knew sargassum was present. A bad sargassum year could leave a $20 million dent in the $2.4 billion Key West tourism industry, leading to a loss of about 300 jobs, according to the report.

Removing sargassum can also come with a high price tag

In places like Key West, removing sargassum from the beach is about the only option for dealing with it.

“Strict environmental laws say that the sargassum can’t be taken out of the water,” Crean says. And installing containment barriers in the water would be a “battle,” she says, because it takes “a long time” to get any permits approved by the state.

Closer ashore, sargassum can also pose a threat to local wildlife, smothering coral reefs and seagrasses. But in the open ocean, it can store carbon, the key driver of climate change. It can also serve as a prime habitat for sea turtles, fish and crustaceans.

So Key West waits for the seaweed to wash ashore. On summer mornings, a team of volunteers walk the beaches to check for trapped turtle hatchlings or signs of new nests, Crean says. After the all-clear, a contracted company uses heavy equipment to rake the sargassum off the beach.

It’s a routine that costs the city about $1 million annually, and Key West is prepared to pull more funding from a reserve stash if necessary, Crean says.

Other coastal locales are following suit. Nearby Miami-Dade County, which spent more than $3.9 million on sargassum cleanup last year, is asking the state for an additional $2 million.

What happens to all that sargassum when it’s removed from the beach?

Removing sargassum is only one challenge; disposing of it is another entirely.

Crean says that the company Key West contracts with donates sargassum to farmers to use as fertilizer. In Mexico, it’s trucked inland to rot in the jungle, reports National Geographic.

But options for processing or decomposing the seaweed may become costlier as the field of sargassum study grows.

Researcher Brian Lapointe told NPR last month that new research suggests decomposing sargassum may leach heavy metals into its surrounding environment.

One study that examined sargassum along beaches in Mexico found that 86% of samples had arsenic levels that were higher than the U.N.’s limit for livestock feed — one repurposing idea that was explored earlier on.

So can we do anything at all?

Some companies are still trying to get creative, experimenting with turning sargassum into biofuel, construction material or even medicinal products.

One of the more promising ideas takes a two-birds-one-stone approach: Sinking sargassum to prevent it from releasing carbon, which would help fight climate change.

The U.K. startup Seaweed Generation is building an autonomous robot that could intercept sargassum patches close to shore, drag them back out to the open ocean and force them to sink to a depth of 1,000 meters, effectively trapping the carbon in the ocean.

“It’s a bit like a seaweed Roomba,” the company’s CEO, Paddy Estridge, told NPR. “It goes through the water very very slowly and, a bit like Pac-Man, scoops up the seaweed.” Then it dives down and offloads the biomass around 200 meters deep, where the air pods that keep the sargassum afloat pop, sending the mass to a watery grave.

The so-called AlgaRay is still in pilot phases, funded by venture capitalists. But if successful, a fully fledged model could be ready to operate next year, submerging as much as 15 tons of sargassum in a single trip.

Until then, the best option for an individual concerned with sargassum may well be patience — or avoidance.

Barnes, the researcher who tracks sargassum with satellite images, says there’s no point in, say, canceling your beach vacation, even if you know the local government isn’t doing daily cleanup.

“The effects are very, very local,” he said. “You’ll see a huge, unbelievable amount of sargassum in one little bay, but if you look past that into the next bay, there’s absolutely no sargassum.”

If you’re really worried, though, he suggests maybe taking a cue from the researchers, keeping a close eye on where blooms are creeping close to shore.

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When Will the Seaweed Hit Florida in 2024?

The warm waters and picturesque beaches of Florida, especially the Florida Keys, attract visitors from around the world. However, these idyllic landscapes are occasionally marred by large masses of sargassum seaweed, which can accumulate on the shoreline and impact beachgoers’ experiences. As we approach 2024, the concern about when sargassum seaweed will hit Florida and the Florida Keys intensifies.

Understanding Sargassum Seaweed

Sargassum is a type of brown seaweed that floats in large masses on the ocean’s surface. Originating in the Sargasso Sea, these floating islands of seaweed are an essential part of the marine ecosystem, providing habitat and food for marine life. However, when sargassum travels across the Atlantic and reaches the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, it can create challenges for coastal areas.

Sargassum in the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys, renowned for their vibrant coral reefs and crystal-clear waters, are especially vulnerable to sargassum accumulation due to their location and the ocean currents that bring the seaweed closer to shore. In recent years, the Keys have experienced periodic surges of sargassum, prompting concerns among residents, business owners, and tourists alike.

The Sargassum Blob

In 2024, researchers anticipate a substantial sargassum seaweed blob, colloquially known as the “Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt,” will continue its journey across the Atlantic towards Florida. The blob’s movements are influenced by several factors, including ocean currents, winds, and temperature.

Predictions for Sargassum in 2024

While it is difficult to predict the exact timing of sargassum’s arrival in Florida in 2024, researchers and oceanographers use satellite imagery and historical data to provide estimates. Based on these data sources, significant sargassum influxes could occur during the warmer months, such as spring and summer, when the currents are more likely to bring the seaweed toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys.

Impact on the Environment and Tourism

The presence of sargassum can pose challenges for local ecosystems and human activities. On the one hand, it can disrupt the natural balance of the shoreline, impact marine life, and contribute to unpleasant odors as it decomposes. On the other hand, its accumulation can negatively affect tourism, a major industry in Florida, by discouraging beachgoers and reducing water quality.

Managing Sargassum in the Florida Keys

Communities and local authorities in the Florida Keys have been working to manage sargassum and mitigate its effects. This includes regular monitoring, removal efforts, and community engagement to address the influxes of seaweed. Additionally, scientists are exploring potential uses for the collected sargassum, such as converting it into biofuel or agricultural fertilizer.

As Florida and the Florida Keys brace for the potential arrival of the sargassum seaweed blob in 2024, proactive management and innovative approaches will be essential to minimize the impact on local ecosystems, tourism, and the economy. While the natural phenomenon of sargassum is a recurring challenge, it also presents an opportunity for creative solutions and sustainable practices that benefit both the environment and the communities along Florida’s coast.