For those of you who’ve been on St. John in recent weeks, you may have noticed an abundance of seaweed floating around the beaches. It started a few months ago as a little here and there, but as of Sunday, it’s nearly consumed some of the island’s most popular beaches. Some experts predicted that it should have been gone by now, but the problem’s only seemed to have gotten worse.
What you’re seeing is called sargassum. 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). Tyler Smith, an associate professor at the Universit of the Virgin Islands Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, told the VI Daily News back in October that the sargassum should start to move out of the territory by mid-November when the winds begin to shift. Unfortunately that has yet to happen.
So while the sargassum may be unsightly, it is not harmful and is also a very important part of the 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, jacks, and amberjacks.
So I guess we’ll have to wait a bit longer for it to move out of the area. In the meantime, you may want to consider bring a rake to the beach. 🙂