Keys Officials Ready to Deal With Potential Influx of Sargassum
Recent news reports have created awareness of potentially forthcoming record arrivals of sargassum, the scientific name for the brown seaweed that floats in the ocean during spring and summer months off Florida and can end up on shorelines.
Florida Keys county and municipal officials say they are ready to remove sargassum from public beaches, if needed.
The seaweed itself is not harmful. In fact, recreational and charterboat fishermen seek sargassum in the Gulf Stream because it can provide shade for baitfish and gamefish such as mahi-mahi, known more commonly in the Keys as dolphin, a highly prized gamefish.
But when sargassum ends up on beaches it can harbor jellyfish, sea lice and other sea life. For most beachgoers it is not pleasant to walk through to gain access to the water.
When sargassum washes ashore in big quantities, it can create headaches as it decays under the sun and gives off a rotten egg smell caused by the release of hydrogen sulfide. It may create health issues for some humans who have chronic respiratory problems, according to Monroe County Health Department Administrator Carla Fry.
Sargassum moves with tides, currents and wind.
The problem in South Florida and the Keys is that prevailing winds are typically onshore during spring and summer. So, the only effective way to attack sargassum accumulations is to remove it with equipment and manpower.
"We are prepared to keep engaged with our beaches in Marathon," said George Garrett, the city manager for Marathon, whose oceanside public beaches include Sombrero Beach and Coco Plum Beach. "We normally rake four times a week, but if we have to, we are ready to beef up patrols."
Kevin Wilson, the assistant Monroe County manager, said that the county monitors and responds with equipment to Higgs Beach in Key West seven days a week. If needed, staff will employ seaweed removal twice a day.
"We are ready," Wilson said.
The City of Key West employs a beach cleaning contractor that cleans beaches every day, according to Public Information Officer Alyson Crean.
"We are prepared to ramp up operations as needed," she said. "Under normal circumstances, the contractor cleans and rakes beaches shortly after dawn every morning, just after turtle watch volunteers walk beaches to identify any nests. Our contractors are prepared."
Keys oceanside hotels typically employ their own staff or contractors to deal with sargassum removal.
Florida Department of Health - Monroe County: https://monroe.floridahealth.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Facebook: facebook.com/
In this file photo, an angler fishes for mahi-mahi along a sargassum weed line. (Photo courtesy of George Poveromo)
Sargassum can provide shade for baitfish and gamefish such as mahi-mahi as seen in this file photo. (Photo courtesy of George Poveromo.)