Town of Palm Beach News

Seaweed Epidemic in Palm Beach County

The past few weeks have brought unusual amounts of seaweed to Palm Beach County’s shores, unfortunately arriving during the peak of tourist season in the South Florida county, as first reported by Palm Beach Daily News.

Oceanographers at the University of South Florida warned in late January that easterly winds could cause such an event after observing mats of sargassum moving through the Florida Straits and into the Gulf Stream.

Seaweed has plagued South Florida beaches all year, but a gust of onshore breezes last week caused a noticeable increase. Now, beachgoers are calling for the macroalgae to be cleaned up.

Sargassum is beneficial for hatchling sea turtles, who use the seaweed as a shelter and feed on small organisms that live in it. Birds, too, find food in the sargassum.

Large quantities can be harmful, though, as it can get caught in boat propellers and even prevent turtles from laying eggs and new hatchlings from reaching the water if the piles get too large.

Seaweed Epidemic in Palm Beach County

This amount of seaweed is normally a problem South Florida encounters in the summer, but USF scientists believe that the mats are leftover from last year’s record-setting sargassum crop.

Palm Beach County’s policy for seaweed on beaches is to let nature take its course, allowing waves to mix it into the sand or wash it back out to sea.  

“Seaweed is part of the natural cycle,” said Andy Studt, Palm Beach County’s environmental program supervisor. “We tell people it’s normal, and to try to leave it if they can, but there are concerns out there with people trying to attract tourists and wanting to keep the beaches nice.”

Roger Amidon, general manager of the Palm Beach Marriott, Singer Island, faced this exact problem. Guests of the Singer Island resort pay up to $800 per night and expect a pristine beach.

Amidon hired contractors to rake the seaweed toward the dune line and bury it, a task which can last all day as more seaweed continues to wash ashore. 

“We went and bought pitchforks and rakes and cleaned it up. The next morning it came back,” Amidon said. “We really took an aggressive approach and we’ve gotten a lot of compliments from our guests.”

Amidon said the current sargassum assault is the worse he has seen. Last month, USF’s Optical Oceanography Lab reported that sargassum covered 200 square miles through the west Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The average between 2011 and 2017 was 11 square miles. 

For the Town of Palm Beach, an abundance of seaweed on Midtown Beach has caused concern after the budget for cleaning public beaches was cut from $72,000 to $17,000.

Related >>> Palm Beach Faces Complaints About Seaweed

Boynton Beach’s recreation and park director Wally Majors said that the city beach is cleaned twice a week, but sometimes it doesn’t make a large difference. 

“I’ve literally watched our vendor rake the beach and the next day it looks as bad or worse,” Majors said. “I know the seaweed doesn’t look pretty and may smell a little bit, but it’s just part of our environment.”

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Alanna Barrett

Alanna Barrett

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