Largest Seaweed Bloom Recorded Impressively Spans the Length of the Atlantic Ocean

Sargassum, the largest seaweed bloom, was recorded in the summer of 2018.

A huge mass of floating seaweed spanning from the West African coast to the Gulf of Mexico has officially been declared the largest clump of seaweed in the world. This was recorded in June 2018.

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The seaweed spans across the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and could become the norm according to scientists. 

The study of the seaweed mass was published in Science.

Largest Seaweed Bloom Recorded Impressively Spans the Length of the Atlantic Ocean
Sargasso seaweed on a beach. Source: Jonathan Wilkins/Wikimedia Commons

The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt

Scientists have dubbed the seaweed mass as the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt - the name explains it all. 

The group of seaweed, properly known as Sargassum, lives on the surface of the ocean where it attracts animal life such as fish, birds, and turtles. 

"In the open ocean, Sargassum provides great ecological values, serving as a habitat and refuge for various marine animals," said co-researcher of the study, Dr. Mengqiu Wang.

When the seaweed reaches land, however, it is less useful or pleasant as it can smother corals and seagrasses, as well as give off an unpleasant rotten egg odor when left on beaches. 

Its removal is time-consuming, expensive and not always very effective. 

Largest Seaweed Bloom Recorded Impressively Spans the Length of the Atlantic Ocean
Source: Brian Lapointe/Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

How did the seaweed grow so much?

According to the researchers, the seaweed may have grown so large due to deforestation and fertilizer use.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Chuanmin Hu of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science, said: "The ocean's chemistry must have changed in order for the blooms to get so out of hand."

So just how long are we talking? As recorded on June 8, 2018, the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt spanned 5,550 miles and was made up of more than 20 million tonnes of biomass.

Largest Seaweed Bloom Recorded Impressively Spans the Length of the Atlantic Ocean
Sargassum algae growth in the Atlantic Ocean in July, 2011-2018. Source: USF College of Marine Science

And how did the researchers discover it? The team used a 19-year record of satellite data to observe the Sargassum. The Sargassum has bloomed every year since 2011, with the exception of 2013

Dr. Hu 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."

Ultimately, in small amounts, the seaweed mass is useful for marine life, especially when far out at sea or in the ocean, as it provides shelter, breeding grounds, and nourishment for certain creatures. 

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However, en masse, the brown, stringy, floating seaweed is more of a nuisance than anything.

Still, it is an impressive demonstration of nature at work.

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