Already under attack from erosion and sea level rise, South Florida beaches face a new crisis: the invasion of Sargassum seaweed.
Last summer, tractors cleaned up the daily seaweed influx, costing taxpayers millions. While sargassum flows have increased in recent years, Florida beaches had record amounts in 2019.
The seaweed has also filled Mexican beaches this winter and is expected back next year. Miami commissioners budgeted thousands of dollars to increase efforts next summer and have petitioned the State of Florida for further backing in the future.
This seaweed spreads mostly in warm waters during the summer months, so scientists see climate change as a factor in this past summer’s worsening inundation. Jayantha T. Obeysekera, director of the Sea Level Solutions Center at FIU said this issue will keep increasing because of sea level rise.
“Sea level has been increasing, and we already see some coastal flooding in places like Miami Beach and some parts of Miami-Dade County and the Keys,” said Obeysekera.
Sargassum is a floating, marine brown algae. It grows in high temperatures and is an important habitat for organisms like tuna and turtles. Even though it is not harmful to humans when it decomposes, it smells and attracts flies and other insects that can affect tourism.
“I hate this stuff, it is smelly and is bad for tourism,” said beachgoer Peter McDermott.
Currently, Miami-Dade County is spending an estimated $45 million a year in removing Sargassum from the shore. According to Mark Richard, senior regional manager for the Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation department, a county contractor removing the seaweed is facing issues. “The actions are kind of limited of what we can do. Financially, it can be very difficult to remove large amounts of seaweed. Right now we are currently removing the seaweed in hot spots around man-made zones.”