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Smelly Sargassum

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Ever notice all that brown stuff clumped down by the seashore? Well, it's called Sargassum and from April to August this brownish-red algae, mass collects along the beaches every year.

Waves of Sargassum are expelled from their substrate among the ocean floor during spring and summer months. It has been named the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, because it can be viewed from space reaching from the coast of Africa all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

According to a study with FAU, the steady surge of Sargassum blooms is the result of increased nitrogen levels from natural and anthropogenic aftermath such as sewage and runoff. Billions of gallons of partially treated sewage and nutrient rich pollution runs off into sea turning a flourishing ecosystem into mass algal blooms, impacting tourism and local economy.

Environmental Impacts

Unlike red tide blooms, Sargassum is generally harmless. However, tourists don't find swimming and sunbathing in smelly algae and seaweed aesthetically pleasing. When you look through Sargassum patches, you will find coral, sponge, dead fish and lots of anthropogenic debris (plastic). But why else should beachgoers and scientist both care about the inundation of seaweed? It creates yet another hurdle for baby sea turtles to overcome during nesting season. Most know the challenges faced by baby sea turtle hatchlings. They must dig their way out of the sand and seaweed to get to the ocean safely while avoiding distracting light and other predators. Among atmospheric changes and rising sea temperatures, sea turtles sex ratio begins to reflect the hotter temperatures. Climate predicts the gender of sea turtles. Higher temperatures result in more females during the embryonic period. During a study with University of North Carolina, marine ecologists recorded the ground temperature beneath the sand after a layer of Sargassum had been expelled onto the beach. The study confirmed their predictions that the algae would act as a layer of insulation for the beach. It traps heat and moisture during the autumn months, slightly warming the sand. In reverse, it shaded the beach from the hot sun during the summer months, keeping it cooler. These temperature ranges are enough to change the predictions of sea turtle genders. Even 0.21 degrees Celsius is enough to affect embryo development. Too many females from rising temperatures can result in a population decline of certain sea turtle species. Something to take note of during the autumn months while Sargassum and sea turtle season is at a peak.

Do you think Sea Turtles can adapt to the ever-changing climate influences on the beach?


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Written by Rachel Taylor

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