By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – The City of Delray Beach is yet again under an onslaught of Sargassum seaweed, a seasonal blight on the shoreline. City officials put out a statement today to ease concern, but it may not be acceptable to residents and visitors to the Village by the Sea.
In a social media post this morning, the City of Delray Beach wrote, “Summer is here, and with it comes Sargassum season. Each morning during the summer months, seaweed washes up along Florida beaches and beaches throughout the Caribbean. Although sargassum seaweed is not a pretty picture, it is perfectly natural and not harmful.”
Explaining, “Delray Beach’s Parks and Recreation staff ‘turn over’ the seaweed each morning, blending it into the sand. This is an ecologically friendly approach which helps prevent beach erosion and eventually returns the seaweed to the ocean rather than having it end up in a landfill.”
University of South Florida oceanography professor Chuanmin Hu’s monthly sargassum forecast predicted that vast drifts of the floating giant life-form would reach the Florida Straits this month.
The report says, “in June 2020, the Sargassum amount continued to increase across the central Atlantic. Large amount of Sargassum was observed in the Central West Atlantic (CWA, i.e., the region east of the Lesser Antilles in the maps below), the Central East Atlantic (CEA), and most of the Caribbean Sea (CS).”
It goes on to state that Sargassum transport to the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) also increased, with moderate amounts found in the Florida Straits and along the east coast of Florida. Miami Beach started to see some inundation.
In all regions combined, the total Sargassum amount increased from 8.7 million tons in May to 12.7 million metric tons in June, lower than June 2018 (20.4 M tons) but higher than June 2015 (9.9 M tons) and June 2019 (9.5 M tons).
“The situation is expected to be similar to summer 2015 and 2019, but with larger Sargassum amounts,” the report states. “In July – August, more Sargassum will reach the eastern GOM, enter the Florida Straits, and transport to the east coast of Florida. The bloom may start to decrease from late August to September.”
In 2018, Kelly Martin, Senior Environmental Analyst with the Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management explained, “Normally this exists just off shore and you’ll find mats and mats of it off shore, it is very important for the ecosystem, it provides food and shelter for a lot of different organisms, sea turtles, fish, a variety of marine life actually live in that sargassum that live off shore.”
“A lot of people are asking us can we remove it, one of the biggest things we tell people, it is natural, we typically try to leave things as they are, and we are in the middle of sea turtle nesting season so any kind of cleaning activity, mechanical or otherwise, needs to get a permit from the state,” said Martin.
Adding, “we can’t have any kind of heavy equipment or cleaning equipment out here without getting permission to do so because we don’t want to impact sea turtle nests.”
However last year it was reported that Miami Beach was taking action to clear the beaches of Sargassum. The seaweed was first chopped up, then gathered for removal by waiting dump trucks and hauled off to the County’s landfill.
They planned for clean-up crews to arrive before the tourists, and were supposed to be done by 10:30 AM each day. At the time, it was predicted that the Miami-Dade County could spend up to $500,000 a month on the effort.
Commissioner Levine Cava said that the County would request contractor proposals for alternative disposal methods, “The short-term plan is to invest in removal from areas of greatest accumulation. We are also exploring reconfiguring the shoreline to reduce accumulation. Longer term we must learn the root causes and reduce our nutrients and carbon.”
In 2011, Sargassum populations started to explode in places it hadn’t been before, like the central Atlantic Ocean, and then it arrived in a massive scale that suffocated shorelines and introduced a new nuisance for local environments and economies. Chuanmin Hu has studied Sargassum using satellites since 2006. “The ocean’s chemistry must have changed in order for the blooms to get so out of hand,” He said.
“This is all ultimately related to climate change, as climate affects precipitation and ocean circulation and even human activities [that can lead to Sargassum blooms], but what we’ve shown is that these blooms do not occur because of increased water temperature,” Hu said. “They are probably here to stay.”