Sun, Sand, and Sargassum

Sun, Sand, and Sargassum

Summer is quickly approaching on St. John. Temperatures are rising and the great Atlantic sargassum belt has arrived for its annual visit. 

Sargassum is a leafy-looking, sepia-toned algae. It is buoyant and tends to crowd the shorelines when it arrives. The great Atlantic sargassum belt is approximately over 5000 miles wide, weighing over 10 million tons. Though these sargassum bloom patches have always been around, they have drastically increased within the last decade or so. 

Sun, Sand, and Sargassum 1

This particular belt comes over from West Africa, swirls around in the Gulf of Mexico for a bit, and then heads back out into the Atlantic. The size of the belt will fluctuate as it passes through. 

In July of 2022, Governor Bryan declared a state of emergency in the territory to help combat the sargassum buildup on St. Croix, as the sargassum was threatening the desalination plant.

It’s not fun when it arrives to a beach you’re planning to visit. It’s not recommended you walk or swim in it as decomposing sargassum releases hydrogen sulfide gas and ammonia which can cause respiratory, skin, and neurocognitive symptoms according to the Journal of Global Health.

When it’s around and starts to decompose, you’ll likely know even before you see it because the smell it gives off is similar to rotten eggs and hard to miss.

It can also be a problem for boaters when it’s abundant as it can get stuck in propellers and intakes.

However, it’s not all bad. Sargassum plays an important role in our ecosystem, providing a breeding ground for many species of fish and by creating energy in the form of carbon.

There’s a good chance you’ve come across sargassum if you’ve been in St. John the last few weeks. It even made an appearance in Cruz Bay earlier this week. The good news is, as quickly as sargassum can come to shore, it can also leave just based upon what the winds are doing. Also, just because you see it on one beach does not mean that it’s everywhere. 

So don’t let it ruin your day, try hopping on over to the next beach if the levels are throwing a wrench in your picturesque beach day plans. 

Sun, Sand, and Sargassum 2
Photo by Lisbeth Boger

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