Oh my God! The world is ending! Sargassum weed is heading towards the Key West beaches! Well, maybe it is not quite that dramatic, but that certainly seems to be the message that the news is sending out to the masses. And that is unfortunate too, as it gives this type of seaweed a bad name. Not to mention it kills vacation tourism. Yes, it can be smelly when it piles up on the beaches. But, it is not harmful, and without it our sea life would suffer. Plus, there are ways to enjoy Key West and never even notice the Sargassum.
Sargassum is actually a habitat of seaweed that floats and thrives on the ocean surface. These mats of weed provide food and act as a refuge and a breeding ground for fish, sea turtles, birds, crabs, shrimp, and more! There is even a species of fish called the sargassum fish which lives its entire life only in this habitat – he is adorable by the way. As the Sargassum weed floats along the ocean, it serves as a nursery area for a variety of fish such as dolphin (mahi mahi), marlin, tuna, sailfish, swordfish and many many more. When Sargassum sinks to the seafloor, it provides energy to fish and invertebrates. Then it stacks up on the beaches it starts the building blocks to prevent erosion. So, without this seaweed, many species and beaches would suffer.
Not all of the Sargassum Weed ends up on the seafloor to nourish sea life. What ends up on the beaches becomes known as Beach Wrack. This can also include sponges and other natural materials that wash up on shore. Once on land, it serves as a primary source of nutrients to sea life such as sea turtles and seabirds. It also plays a role in dune development and is a building block to prevent beach erosion. Our Key West beaches are mostly made of limestone rock from ancient coral reefs so we don’t exactly need the erosion protection. However, sargassum does stack up and get stinky.
Every year the weed stacks up on our beaches. It is normal and part of life here in our resort town. Like many other things in nature, there are cycles. One year there may be more or less than others, and this year we are expecting a larger than normal bloom. Many of the resorts and the city of Key West are doing what they can to gather up and dump the weed.
Well, this can be for a lot of reasons that I am not wanting to get into in this article. In my humble opinion it is due to a slow news cycle. However, that said, satellite images are showing that this years bloom will be larger than normal and will indeed land on the Florida Beaches, including Key West.
Sargassum weed is nothing new. It has always been around. For example in 1492, Christopher Columbus actually encountered in while sailing across the Atlantic. Masses of sargassum have been documented stalled sailing ships in what is called the doldrums near the equator where the weed originates. The weed comes up from the Caribbean Sea from just North and East of South America. The Gulf Stream current is a conveyor belt that drives the weeds to the North (where Florida is). As I mentioned earlier in this post, the amount of weed varies from year to year and is not as horrible as they are making it out to be.
Anyone can look into the sargassum bloom. Here is a satelite data link.
There are several considerations for you to help plan around the weed and still enjoy Key West and all that our island has to offer. Drop me an email and see about the latest reports for the sargassum weed blob of 2023. I am happy to help you choose a hotel, resort or destination. Also happy to help with what to avoid and where to go.
Hi I’m Island Genn with The Keys To Key West Inc. I have been helping visitors plan the best Key West vacations since 1998.