By Theresa Pinto M.S., Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Last Friday, the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department held a press conference to launch an emergency initiative for removal of the overabundant Sargassum seaweed that has been causing issues for many beach-goers.
The press conference, held on the beach near 26th ST, was attended by County Commissioners Sally Heyman, Eileen Higgins, and Daniella Levine Cava, along with Miami Beach Commissioners John Elizabeth Alemán and Ricky Arriola and several officials of the Parks Department.
The seaweed was first chopped up, then gathered for removal by waiting dump trucks and hauled off to the County’s landfill. Going forward, clean-up crews will arrive before the tourists and are supposed to be done by 10:30 AM each day, and the County could spend up to $500,000 a month on the effort.
Commissioner Levine Cava told this newspaper, the County will soon request contractor proposals for alternative disposal methods, “The short-term plan is to invest in removal from areas of greatest accumulation. We are also exploring reconfiguring the shoreline to reduce accumulation. Longer term we must learn the root causes and reduce our nutrients and carbon.”
Levine Cava, who is currently running for County Mayor, has a long record of championing environmental issues. Given that the ‘hot spots’ for the seaweed build-up are around “‘man-made’ interventions”, reconfiguring the shoreline could be extremely effective. The reconfiguration could also reduce the impacts of sea level rise and nutrient-loading in general.
It is uncertain if the recent inundation of Sargassum would eventually lead to any negative health effects. Although the hydrogen sulfide gas emitted from the Sargassum piles are not an immediate threat according to most health specialists, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration regards the gas as ‘extremely hazardous’. In humans, it can impact oxygen-uptake and central nervous systems.
Most current impacts are limited to recreational venues, and last year fishermen from Dominica reported they were landlocked for up to three days because the Sargassum was too thick to traverse.
Yet, according to Hazel Oxenford, a marine biologist at the University of the West Indies in Barbados, the Sargassum is choking and killing sea turtles, and nearly every species of sea turtle is endangered today. In 2018, Barbados also noted dolphin deaths due to the seaweed blooms.
Miami-Dade County had to receive a special permit from the state before removing the Sargassum, in order to protect turtle nesting grounds. The County received the permit last week from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service so they could begin clean up on Friday.
Some scientists think the phenomena is at the peak of the inundation, but there is always uncertainty in scientific prediction. Also uncertain is whether this is a “new normal” as scientists concede much remains unanswered.
For instance, the current bloom did not originate in the Sargasso Sea; in addition, there is a new genetic strain of Sargassum in the bloom moving northward from the coastlines of Brazil.
Another study published by UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science last week demonstrated that fires burning in Africa are dumping more than half of the phosphorus pollution into the Amazon basin and speculated whether this is contributing to the unusual Sargassum seaweed blooms.
However, as Molwyn Joseph, Antigua’s environment minister, told The Atlantic Magazine, “We have made the assumption that this is going to be an annual thing, and the same way we prepare for hurricanes we have to prepare for Sargassum.”