Scientists monitoring 5,000-mile-long mass of seaweed heading to Florida

A 'blob' of seaweed so large it can be seen from space, is headed towards America's east coast

Scientists are monitoring a mass of seaweed, measuring more than 5,000 miles long, which is expected to affect Florida and other coastlines along the Gulf of Mexico this summer.

The 'blob' of sargassum - a variety of seaweed - stretches from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico, and is currently traveling westwards to the Caribbean.

Officials in Florida fear the blob could negatively impact on its tourism, dumping heaps of seaweed on its beaches.

Alongside being an eyesore, the seaweed can also be potentially toxic to humans as it releases hydrogen sulfide while it rots.

Dr Brian Lapointe, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, said he expects the seaweed to affect beaches in the southeastern US state around July.

He told CNN: "This is an entirely new oceanographic phenomenon that is creating such a problem, really a catastrophic problem, for tourism in the Caribbean region, where it piles up on beaches up to five or six feet deep."

Dr Lapointe added that the mass began to form earlier than scientists expected and doubled in size between December and January.

Barbados is currently dealing with the problem by using "1,600 dump trucks a day to clean the beaches of this seaweed to make it suitable for tourists and recreation on the beaches", he explained.

A bird stands on seaweed covering the Atlantic shore in Frigate Bay, St. Kitts and Nevis. Credit: AP

While sargassum floating at sea can provide a habitat for a variety of animals, including loggerhead turtles, it can also have the opposite affect when it reaches land.

Dr Lapointe said: "It comes in in such a large quantities that it basically sucks the oxygen out of the water and creates what we refer to as dead zones.

"These are normally nursery habitats for fisheries… and once they're devoid of oxygen, we have lost that habitat."

The seaweed itself also contains arsenic in its flesh, making it dangerous if ingested.

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