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What is Sargassum and why is it stinking up Orange Beach AL this summer 2022?

Ella Kipling May 26, 2022
Daily Life In Playa Del Carmen
Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If you’ve been down to Orange Beach and have been wondering what that funky smell is, then wonder no longer as we have everything you need to know about the smelly seaweed plaguing the sea.

Sargassum, a brown seaweed, is nothing new, but in recent years beaches have seen an increase in the sheer quantity of it washing up onto the shore and putting beach-goers off.

Cleaning of Playa Punta Esmeralda Playa covered with sargassum seaweed continue in Playa del Carmen. Sargassum continues to smother Playa del Carmen beaches causing issues and closures. Some beaches and beach cleaners are overwhelmed, however, officials are out cleaning on a daily basis. On Tuesday, 22 March 2022, in Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

What is Sargassum?

Sargassum is a brown seaweed which is known to wash up on beaches and give off a bad smell.

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But why does Sargassum smell? Sargassum smells because when it rots, it gives off hydrogen sulfide, which has an unpleasant odour similar to that of rotten eggs.

While Sargassum may smell, it does not cause harm to humans. However, organisms living in Sargassum (such as the larvae of jellyfish) may irritate the skin if they come into contact with it. Florida Health explains that exposure to hydrogen sulfide in an enclosed space can affect your health. On a beach, where there is a large amount of air flow, hydrogen sulfide is not expected to harm your health.

Why is there an increase in Sargassum?

In 2019, scientists saw a bloom in Sargassum between West Africa and the Gulf of Mexico. They stated that the main force thought to be behind the growth is deforestation and fertiliser use.

Dr Chuanmin Hu of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science explained that the reason the blooms are so out of hand must be due to the changing of the “ocean’s chemistry.”

He said: “This is all ultimately related to climate change because it affects precipitation and ocean circulation and even human activities, but what we’ve shown is that these blooms do not occur because of increased water temperature.”

Which places are affected by Sargassum?

Beaches in Mexico are suffering from Sargassum currently, with the Quintana Roo sargassum monitoring network’s latest map showing that some beaches in the Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum areas are “covered” with excessive amounts of it, as well as all those on the east coast of Cozumel.

Reports of Sargassum plaguing Orange Beach in Alabama have also surfaced, with beach-goers concerned over the amount of the seaweed, and the rotten smell it gives off.

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Ella is the Head of Content at Freshered and also works a freelance journalist at GRV Media, writing for HITC and Reality Titbit. Her interests lie in news and anything culture related including entertainment, musicals, books, and social media. Ella is also a big supporter of student media and writes for her university’s newspaper as well as hosting her own show on the radio station.