Researchers checking if seaweed is a threat
(Daily cleanup: seaweed on Horseshoe Bay beach (Photograph by Kenra Earls))
Researchers are checking if a rare variant of sargassum seaweed that has invaded Caribbean coastlines could make its way to Bermuda.
Robbie Smith, the curator of the Natural History Museum at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, is working on a study with Dr Kerry Whittaker, the chief scientist aboard the Sea Education Association’s research ship Corwith Cramer.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said that the variant had plagued beaches in the Caribbean for the past three years.
Earlier work by Dr Smith found that the sargassum natans variant had been found in Bermuda occasionally but did not seem to thrive in the cooler waters around the island.
The news came after large amounts of sargassum seaweed appeared on Horseshoe Bay and other beaches over the last week.
But Dr Smith said it was not unusual and that healthy quantities of sargassum were important for the health of the seas.
He added: “Sargassum is two species of marine algae, sargassum natans and sargassum fluitans, which generally show strong growth in the spring.”
“The plants will look a light yellow-brown in colour and become more golden as they age through the summer.
“The plants are responding to longer day lengths and warmer water temperatures and grow quickly.
“But the amount of sargassum we see around Bermuda is really controlled by ocean currents and prevailing winds.
“In the winter months much sargassum is pushed from the north towards us and the prolonged southeasterly winds this past week seem to have brought sargassum up from the south.
“While sargassum tends to be more abundant around Bermuda in the fall and winter months, it’s not unusual to see large quantities stranding on our beaches at any time of the year.”
Sargassum is crucial to many sea species, such as sea turtles, flying fish and mahi mahi.
Accumulations of the seaweed also host about 100 species which live inside it.
A parks spokeswoman said: “While the Department of Parks does what it can to clean our beaches of the substance, parks crews are limited in their cleanup efforts.
“At present, park crews are raking Horseshoe Bay Beach in the mornings on a daily basis and usually bury the excess seaweed at the back of the beach and dunes.
“This process assists with stabilisation of these areas in the event of a storm or hurricane.
“To aid in clearing the beach, the department is exploring other options, such as trucking the sargassum away from the beach.”
There have also been reports of Portuguese man o’ war tangled up in the seaweed.
Dr Smith said people should be cautious and avoid contact with the venomous creatures, including their tentacles, which can extend up to six feet and give a dangerous sting.
The Department of Parks said that lifeguards were expected to to be on duty at Horseshoe Bay Beach from Wednesday.