A 5,000-mile seaweed belt lurking in the Atlantic Ocean is expected in the next few months to wash onto beaches in the Caribbean Sea, South Florida, and the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.
The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt — as the biomass stretching from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico is called — contains scattered patches of seaweed on the open sea, rather than one continuous blob of sargassum. It's not a new occurrence, but satellite images captured in February showed an earlier start than usual for such a large accumulation in the open ocean.
Once it washes ashore, sargassum is a nuisance — a thick, brown algae that carpets beaches, releasing a pungent smell as it decays and ensnares humans and animals who step into it. For hotels and resorts, clearing the stuff off beaches can amount to a round-the-clock operation.