Mega Seaweed Clump Invades Florida with Flesh-Eating Bacteria

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Threat of Flesh-Eating Bacteria in Seaweed Onslaught Along Florida Beaches

Alfred Hitchcock would be intrigued by the 5,000-mile-wide blob of seaweed looming across the Atlantic and washing up on Florida’s beaches. But the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt is harboring a real-life threat: Vibrio bacteria. Marine biologists from Florida Atlantic University have issued a stark warning about high levels of this flesh-eating bacteria in the decomposing algae. The bacteria can cause disease and even death in humans if they become infected.

Ocean Pollution Fuels Bacteria Growth

Compounding the problem is the role of ocean pollution in the bacteria’s proliferation. Plastic debris is abundant within the Atlantic’s Sargasso Sea and the Caribbean, and it interacts with the algae and bacteria to create the perfect storm for pathogens. Tracy Mincer, assistant professor of biology at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and Harriet L Wilkes Honors College, says the seaweed belt provides ideal breeding grounds for omnivorous strains of bacteria targeting both plant and animal life, as well as potentially harboring high levels of pathogens.

Risks Associated with Sargassum Cleanup

As municipal workers and environmentally conscious volunteers work to clean up the washed-up seaweed and make beaches more attractive for tourists, they’re now having to contend with the additional threat of Vibrio bacteria. The Clean Miami Beach organization is taking precautions, including wearing gloves and using sanitizers and long-handled grabbers, to avoid direct contact with potentially contaminated materials. Founder Sophie Ringel is understandably alarmed: “I wonder what happens if we ingest it or come into contact with it? Is it transferable? And when it rains, does it end up in our drinking water?”

Addressing the Seaweed Belt Threat

The Florida Department of Health is advising against coming into contact with sargassum due to the risk of Vibrio vulnificus infections, especially for people with weakened immune systems. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and municipalities to respond to the issue, with the state legislature allocating $5 million to assist local governments with cleanup efforts. DEP spokesperson Jon Moore says many local governments have management plans in place and are experienced in dealing with the seaweed belt’s effects on their beaches.

The State of Florida’s Beaches

Miami-Dade County spends about $6 million a year on removing sargassum from its beaches, which helps keep the popular tourist destination’s shores clean and reduces the threat of infection. The University of South Florida (USF) has tracked the sargassum using satellite imaging and notes that the amount in the Atlantic dropped by about 15% in May. However, USF researchers have also recorded a considerable increase in sargassum over the last decade and expect that trend to continue, due to favorable conditions for its growth.

Read More of this Story at – 2023-06-03 18:53:00

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