Researchers have warned about the potential dangers lurking inside the 2023 Great Seaweed Blob.
This mass of seaweed was spotted heading toward eastern North America. The event, formally known as the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, began forming off the coast of Africa the winter before.
Scientists are concerned that the blob may be a habitat for flesh-eating bacteria, which can be a substantial health hazard once it washes up on the coasts of North America. While there is seaweed migration every year, the “blobs” are typically nowhere near the size of the 2023 one.
To put the size of the blob in perspective, it measures more than 5,000 miles/8,000 km long and stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the West coast of Africa. Several areas on the US eastern seaboard have been warned to be prepared for up to 3 feet/.9m of seaweed washing up on their beaches.
Although the seaweed is an issue for humans, beaches and boaters, it boosts wildlife and brings a host of nutrients to the waters it passes through. To deal with the danger of the flesh-eating bacteria Vibrio vulnificus, the CDC and health authorities urge boaters and members of the public to wash their hands thoroughly when coming into contact with any seaweed.
According to Tracy Mincer, the assistant professor of biology at FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute:
“Plastic is a new element that’s been introduced into marine environments and has only been around for about 50 years. Our lab work showed that these Vibrio are extremely aggressive and can seek out and stick to plastic within minutes. We also found that there are attachment factors that microbes use to stick to plastics, and it is the same kind of mechanism that pathogens use… We really want to make the public aware of these associated risks. In particular, caution should be exercised regarding the harvest and processing of Sargassum biomass until the risks are explored more thoroughly.”