For the last few months, scientists have been monitoring an enormous, growing mass of seaweed in the Atlantic. Now more than 5,000 miles across—that’s wider than the contiguous United States—the floating blob is headed toward American shores.
Brown, spongy, and smelly, the mass of seaweed could wash up on Florida beaches as early as this summer. If that happens, it could spell trouble for would-be vacationers.
According to reporting from The Guardian, the biggest issue with the seaweed is its odor. When giant clumps like this decay in the sun, they release gases that smell like rotten eggs and can exacerbate conditions like asthma. This particular blob could result in piles of rotting seaweed up to six feet high. This kind of phenomenon has caused Caribbean islands to declare national emergencies in the past. Removal is usually only possible with heavy machinery.
Of course, not everyone agrees that catastrophic beach-smothering is a certain outcome. Some scientists are rolling their eyes, calling the blob warnings nothing more than “media hype,” writes Meteorologist Mark Collins in News4Jax. While Collins expects Carribbean states to experience plenty of beached seaweed, current models show only limited smothering in Flordia.
The type of seaweed comprising the floating mat is sargassum. Sargassum provides critical habitat for fish and sea turtles. It sucks carbon from the air as it grows and is generally thought to be an important vegetative species for ocean ecosystems.