Off-season onslaught of seaweed overruns South Florida beaches

A rare off-season assault of seaweed has struck South Florida beaches, creating a dinner table for shorebirds and forcing swimmers to pick their way past reeking piles of vegetation.

The seaweed, a bushy brown algae called sargassum, is a common sight along the beach. Carried to South Florida’s beaches by ocean currents from the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the seaweed typically spikes during the summer.

But while there has been some decline during the winter months, the amount of seaweed remained unusually high, with the consequences now washing up.

“This year is extremely severe,” said Chuanmin Hu, professor of optical oceanography at the University of South Florida, whose laboratory tracks seaweed movements and development. “Typically you have a lot of sargassum in summer, but this year the beach events in Florida started early.”

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