[USA] A slimy, brown monster, after slithering free of the Bermuda Triangle, is devouring beaches from Florida to Texas and the Caribbean.
It’s not the plot of a bad science fiction movie, although it involves a whole lot of bad science — just zero fiction.
It’s big, it’s unstoppable, it sometimes disappears only to return. And the powers that be want to keep this threat under wraps.
It’s called Sargassum seaweed and it’s growing out of control, so tourism officials from the best beach towns in the world know that if you knew, you’d stay away. Instead, they’re sticking their heads in the sand and hoping you’ll do the same.
Remember “Jaws?” Don’t tell the truth or the tourists will stay home.
Unlike the great white shark, the great brown monster is a rotting, stinking beast wreaking global havoc: From South Florida to Mexico to Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Texas, the Iberian Peninsula, the British Isles, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Morocco and Sierra Leone.
No matter what the tourist boards claim, it’s happening. They can’t make it go away. And they for sure can’t hide it anymore.
It’s spreading so frighteningly fast throughout the North Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico that it’s … well, unfathomable.
Sargassum appears in gigantic mats of free-floating seaweed — it doesn’t attach to the bottom of the sea, but grows atop the water. It can change the makeup of our oceans, yet no one knows how to stop it. It’s always been around in small summer quantities on beaches, but now it’s washing ashore in the thousands of tons.
Sargassum, also known as Sargasso seaweed, is a form of brown algae that originated in the mysterious circular Sargasso Sea — a sea without shores, over 2 million square miles in area, in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle.
Sargassum is nothing new — Columbus even mentioned it in his journals — but it’s now traveling far and wide to areas once untouched, in tonnage never imagined, choking and fouling beaches and waters in ways never considered before.
An additional ecological consequence: As its blooms die off in the ocean, they deplete the water of oxygen to create oceanic “dead zones.”
In very recent years, the out-of-control growth started impacting beaches even in the winter — a new phenomenon affecting regions like the eastern Caribbean during peak tourist season.
And it just keeps on coming.
As the sometimes miles-wide masses of algae wash ashore, they can form piles up to 10 feet tall.
The mini-mountains of rotting algae and the tiny trapped sea creatures living inside perish when the algae hits the beach, creating a putrid, sulfurous stink.
The vile stench makes sunbathing impossible and swimming through the slime just as distasteful.
Sargassum isn’t all bad and is necessary to the environment — in its normal size and growth cycles; the seaweed provides a breeding ground for many creatures, including turtles.
But the masses of seaweed now washing ashore are so large and so thick that sometimes when the turtles hatch, the babies become tangled in the seaweed and die.
If that’s not enough to make the global community sit up and smell the rot, the decay attracts disease-carrying biting insects like sand flies.
What caused the algae, like a 1950s B-movie menace, to grow so wildly? Like those sci-fi horrors, this monster is the result of human intervention — global warming, oil spills, and toxic waste poured into rivers that flow into the oceans.
The environmental and economic impact may turn out to be just as frightening as the deadly mass that chased Steve McQueen in “The Blob.”
Yet tourism officials in areas like Cancun on the Mexican Riviera declare the beaches are pristine despite photographic evidence proving otherwise.
Sargassum expert Brian LaPointe, a professor at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, started studying seaweed in the 1980s.
He says the Caribbean’s huge Sargassum influx followed the 2010 BP oil spill and its resultant “cleanup.” Mix that horrific disaster with overall global warming and the untold years of toxic waste continually dumped into the Mississippi and Amazon rivers — and what we’ve got is a perfect storm.
LaPointe says that BP used a dispersant, Corexit, in unprecedented quantities — more than ever used to “clean up” any spill.
Corexit is usually sprayed from ships onto the surface of the water. After the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, however, the crews also pumped dispersants 5,000 feet below the ocean surface.
Some of the oil sunk to the ocean floor, preventing it from washing ashore in giant balls, which was good.
The Corexit compound was also applied to much of the oil that didn’t sink to the bottom, which causes the petroleum to be rapidly broken down by bacteria.
LaPointe says this has in turn possibly spurred the Sargassum growth.
Corexit, incidentally, was developed by Standard Oil, which is now, incidentally, associated with both BP and Exxon. Bingo!
How big is the Sargassum seaweed invasion since the BP spill? In July, Cancun workers removed nearly 18,000 cubic feet of seaweed from the beach — only to have it reappear.
Ditto, Galveston, Tex., where they removed hundreds of tons before more washed ashore.
In Punta Cana, in an attempt to keep the algae at bay, so to speak, the Dominican government erected giant nets in the ocean.
Having workers rake the seaweed up daily as it washes ashore is like trying to clear a blizzard with a teaspoon. It’s beyond overwhelming. But using industrial equipment like top loaders can strip the sand from beaches.
And LaPointe said a mat of the seaweed, at some points 80 miles wide, clogged the intake valve of a Florida power plant — almost causing what he describes as “a China Syndrome” situation.
Sargassum is not the only type of seaweed posing danger to our oceans and sea life.
The species Sargassum muticum was recently listed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as one of three alien invading seaweeds and algae new to Alaska.
The politicians deny climate change, the pollution of our air, our land and our oceans. Spills aren’t a problem and neither is toxic waste, they tell us.
What they can’t deny, however, are the tons of the Bermuda Triangle seaweed wrecking our beaches and choking our shores.
Some towns, like Fort Lauderdale, are composting the seaweed and experimenting with letting it accumulate on sections of beaches to see how it can help the environment. The sheer volume of Sargassum, however, has made controlling the mess untenable.
But don’t mention any of this to anyone. It might drive the tourists away.
Photo: Sargassum, also known as Sargasso seaweed, is a form of brown algae.