Sargassum is back. What can Caribbean islands do?

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Parts of the Caribbean are dealing with a most unwelcome visitor these days that threatens to be a buzzkill for beachgoers, swimmers and strollers along the shorelines of several islands.

Although harmless, sargassum is a stinky type of seaweed, an eyesore that rolls in on ocean currents and tides, chokes the shores and guests’ nostrils and is difficult to clean up.

Sargassum is naturally occurring and begins washing up on shorelines in March. But the levels typically increase over the summer when temperatures soar, creating ideal conditions for its propagation. Global warming and runoff from fertilizers in waters emptying from Brazil’s rivers into the Atlantic as well as hurricanes and tropical storms that churn up ocean waters are two probable causes for its appearance each summer.

Sargassum showed up briefly in the Caribbean in 2011 and had a massive comeback in 2015, which continued each summer through 2021. Now it’s back.

“In all regions combined — the tropical Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico — the total sargassum amount increased from 18.8 million tons in May 2022 to 24.2 million tons in June 2022, thus setting a new historical record,” the University of South Florida Optical Oceanography Lab reported.

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