A brownish, pungent seaweed known as sargassum has increased dramatically in the Caribbean in recent months, researchers said. Some shorelines have been hit so hard by the invasion of algae that tourists have cancelled summer trips and lawmakers in Tobago have deemed it a “natural disaster,” the Associated Press reported on Monday.

Sargassum, also called gulfweed, is a floating, brownish algae that attracts sand fleas and smells like rotten eggs. It is generally attached to rocks along costs in temperate regions. The seaweed blooms in the Sargasso Sea, located in a two million square mile body of warm water in the North Atlantic ocean. With the influx of seaweed threatening the tourism sector of the Caribbean, officials have called for an emergency meeting of the 15-nation Caribbean community.

"This has been the worst year we've seen so far. We really need to have a regional effort on this because this unsightly seaweed could end up affecting the image of the Caribbean," said Christopher James, chairman of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association, the Associated Press reported.

Officials in the Caribbean have authorized emergency money to fund cleanup efforts. In some cases, the seaweed has piled up nearly ten feet high on beaches. Mexican recently authorities said that they have planned to spend about $9.1 million and hire 4,600 temporary workers to clean up the seaweed that has engulfed Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Some of the money will be used to test whether the seaweed can be collected before it reaches the shoreline.  

Although normal amounts of sargassum can be good for the Caribbean, the massive influxes seen recently can cause fish kills, beach fouling, tourism losses and coastal dead zones.




“We have heard reports of recently hatched sea turtles getting caught in the seaweed. If removal of seaweed involves large machinery that will also obviously cause impacts to the beaches and the ecosystems there," said Faith Bulger, program officer at the Washington-based Sargasso Sea Commission, the Associated Press reported.

Some scientists said the reason behind the massive seaweed increase began as early as 2011, when ocean temperatures warmed and changes in ocean currents occurred because of climate change. Other researchers claim increased land-based nutrients and pollutants washing into the water, including nitrogen-heavy fertilizers and sewage wastes, helped fuel the algae blooms. There are also a number of scientists that have linked the sargassum influx to a high flow of nutrients from South America’s Amazon and Orinoco Rivers mixing with warmer ocean temperatures.