For those of you who have flown to the island in recent weeks, you may have notices what looked like an oil slick in the water. But rather than it being a darker color with an oily shine, it’s a lighter brown color. What you’re seeing from the air is sargassum and it’s been popping up on some of our beaches over the past month or so.
Sargassum is a genus of large brown seaweed (a type of algae) that floats in island-like masses, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). While it may be unsightly when found on the beach, it’s actually a very important part of our ecosystem.
This floating habitat provides food, refuge, and breeding grounds for an array of critters such as fishes, sea turtles, marine birds, crabs, shrimp, and more, according to the NOAA. Some animals, like the Sargassum fish live their whole lives only in this habitat. Sargassum serves as a primary nursery area for a variety of commercially important fishes such as mahi mahi, for example.
We saw a decent amount of sargassum on Cruz Bay beach early Friday morning, but fortunately it was most gone today. St. Thomas has reported a numerous problems with it over the past several months, including having to temporarily move the Division of Fish and Wildlife back in May due to the stench of the decaying seaweed.
The last big sargassum bloom we saw here on island was back in December 2014. At that time, the Territory had to employ heavy machine operators to remove it. Let’s hope it doesn’t get that bad this time and simply moves back out to the ocean.