Just when it seemed as if the sargassum that has been plaguing Cayman’s shoreline might be clearing up, another mat of the dense reddish-brown seaweed has washed ashore.
This time it has hit South Sound, as a new wave washed in overnight, and it continues to affect many other parts of the island.
Kayaking guides with Surfside Aquasports, which launches its kayaks from South Sound, said the seaweed has been plentiful for the past few days, but they were shocked to see how much had washed in Thursday morning. The company is operating as usual, as the seaweed does not affect the boats, however some tourists are not too keen on wading through the seaweed to get in the kayaks.
Sargassum is not harmful to humans and many species of sea creature thrive in the mats.
Nevertheless, the enormous quantities of it this year have left many across the Caribbean in a panic, as it threatens tourism industries, covering what are typically clear waters and pristine beaches.
An article in The Washington Post on Wednesday described the sargassum situation in Mexico. The country has been grappling with the seaweed since July, and the government hired 5,000 day laborers to rake seaweed from more than 100 miles of beaches.
The country has deployed its navy to track the seaweed and launched research voyages to study the cause of this year’s influx, according to The Washington Post article.
No one knows just yet what is to blame for this year’s seaweed explosion. What scientists can say for certain, however, is that it is worse this year than any other year on record.
Chuanmin Hu, professor of optical oceanography at the University of South Florida, tracks the sargassum bloom in the Sargasso Sea by satellite.
“Compared to any year, this year is the largest, and we have the numbers,” Mr. Hu told the Cayman Compass. “It’s not just based on a few images, it’s based on rigorous analysis.”
Mr. Hu has been studying sargassum for five years. He said the bloom really started exploding in 2010, but this year the bloom is “several times” larger than in 2014.
“This year is abnormal,” Mr. Hu said. “It used to just occur in the spring and summer … but now it’s every month you see this.”
A big bloom does not necessarily mean more sargassum will wash ashore, as that is dependent on a variety of factors including winds and currents.
Mr. Hu said scientists are trying to work on a system that could track the sargassum to forecast where it might be heading, “but we don’t have such a system in place yet.”
“Sargassum is not new … but it has become so much bigger in the tropical Atlantic, so what caused it, we don’t know,” Mr. Hu said. “We’re trying to solve this puzzle.”