Florida is going to be smelly this year.
You’ve probably heard about the great Sargassum belt heading towards Florida. Five thousand miles long, longer than the width of the continental US. If you’ve lived in Florida more than six months, you’re not surprised. That’s because for the last month or so you’ve been living with the smell of rotting fish, coughing and runny eyes caused by the coincidental appearance of red tide and the annual meeting of the Florida legislature.
Red tide is a naturally occurring algae bloom first noticed off the Florida coast in the Gulf of Mexico about 300 years ago so it’s at least one environmental problem we didn’t cause ourselves. Red tide blooms work like this: the algae lurks about 10-50 miles offshore all the time. It never goes away. When waters warm, the algae moves closer to the surface and starts to grow. Wind and tide patterns push it closer to shore where its fed by nutrient run off (fertilizer, septic leakage) which expands the bloom and makes its toxicity increase to a level that kills fish and birds and causes respiratory distress in humans (tourists). It hangs around until a change in wind patterns and an influx of cleaner water (rain, tides) breaks up the bloom and moves it offshore where the whole cycle starts again.
This April, just as red tide chugs out of town, Sargassum will be arriving to flummox the never-ending spring break crowds. It’s already got a toe in on Key West and it’s expected to stain the east coast first and head to the Gulf coast for the summer seaweed season. Just like hurricanes, no one really knows where it will make landfall until it’s there, but all signs point to a stinky summer.
When it does arrive, you can expect to see thick brown blankets of rotting Sargassum seaweed (i.e.algae) covering the beaches emitting the odor of rotten eggs. Don’t eat it, no matter what you see on Tick Tok. Walking through it is sketchy since it teems with jellyfish larvae that can sting. It decomposes slowly and needs to be removed by beach cleanup. Your early morning beach walks may be odiforous, but it should be much easier to get a reservation at a waterfront restaurant.
So what, you ask, is the Florida Legislature doing about these twin threats to Florida’s overheated tourist industry? Hmm. Not a lot. They have a backlog of really important stuff to address first, like “open carry” which basically means you can strap on your AK-47 and walk through the veggie section of Publix. And banning authors like Jodi Picoult and James Patterson from school libraries. And mandating the use of “birth” pronouns by school staff. And, who knows what else. Our distinguished legislators tend to get to Tallahassee and come up with a lot of new ideas that they discuss during the commercial breaks on Yellowstone and then vote to pass without further ado. So, red tide and sargassum aren’t getting a lot of airtime this year.
Nose clips, anyone?