Miami Dade’s Sargassum Seaweed Challenge

Alex Penelas, Mayor of Miami Miami-Dade County (1996-2004)

The natural beauty of Miami-Dade County has long been a boon to our residents, visitors and collective quality of life. Our beaches are a gift from nature, and we enjoy time spent there with our family and friends. As such, it is critical that we do everything in our power to ensure that our children, and their children, have this same opportunity. While it is easy for some to think of the consequences of pollution and sea-temperature rise as a far-off, intangible concept, the reality is that we are experiencing real consequences at this very moment.

If you’ve been to Miami Beach or any of our coastal areas lately, there is a good chance that you’ve encountered piles of Sargassum on our shores and in our waters. Sargassum is a free-floating seaweed that has generally emanated from the Sargasso Sea, which is located off the East Coast of the United States. Recently, however, Sargassum has begun to flourish off the coast of Brazil, where rollbacks of environmental protections and rising sea temperatures have created a breeding ground for this macroalgae. As Sargassum continues to grow, roughly doubling in weight every 18 days, it is caught in the Gulf Stream and makes its way to our beaches; this is what we are experiencing right now, and the end result is a build-up of a foul smelling and dangerous seaweed on our County’s beaches.

Aside from degrading the quality of our environment and negatively impacting residents, this issue will significantly impact Miami-Dade’s tourism industry if we fail to take action. The good news is that there are a number of feasible solutions at our disposal, but in order to effectively manage this issue and preserve our environment, Miami-Dade County cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. Different strategies will be needed for different areas. We can always resort to collecting and disposing of the material, but for some coastal areas it may make sense to place a barrier of sorts that prevents Sargassum from accumulating near our shores. In other areas, perhaps blading will suffice and in fact some communities have turned to recycling strategies. With collection and disposal, frequency should be dictated by accumulated volume; it does not necessarily need to occur daily or along the entire coastline.

Thanks to the strong advocacy of Commissioner Eileen Higgins and at the urging of Miami Beach Commissioners, homeowner associations and residents, last week Mayor Carlos Gimenez took a significant step in the right direction by approving an emergency contract for the removal of Sargassum with an emphasis on certain hot spots. (The Mayor also requested an extended clean-up permit from the Governor.) This emergency measure will provide resources until the end of the current fiscal year (September 30) as the County identifies additional resources for fiscal 2019-20. While this is a positive development, it is absolutely critical that we formulate a long-term, comprehensive plan in order to deal with this issue on a permanent basis. Because we have no control over the root causes, it is up to us to do everything we can to preserve our beautiful ecosystem in the face of a serious challenge.

We can no longer separate environmental issues and economic issues, because in Miami-Dade County, these are one in the same. While the costs associated with managing our community’s Sargassum issue are high, the costs of doing nothing are significantly higher.

Alex Penelas served as a two-term Mayor of Miami-Dade County from 1996 to 2004. Alex’s career in public service began in 1987 when he was elected to the City Council of Hialeah before successfully running for a County Commission seat in 1990, becoming the youngest County Commissioner in history. During his eight years as mayor, Alex focused on implementing robust solutions for early education, public transportation, and homelessness. A proud father of three, Alex now lives in Miami Lakes with his wife, Lilliam and their youngest daughter, Alexandra. If you would like to reach out to Alex, feel free to do so through his personal email: Alex.Penelas18@gmail.com


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31 COMMENTS

  1. I read the article. Aren’t there health benefits to sargassum and can’t we involve the pharmaceutical companies to assist in the clean up efforts?

  2. I really appreciate your interest on this issue. I just expend a week vacation in a Miami Beach hotel and was unable to use the beach because of this problem with the sargassum. I support any effort that will be taken to control this problem in our beautiful beaches. Best wishes.
    Raul Sanchez

    • Raul, I appreciate you taking the time to read this column and share your experience. We’ve got to continue to ensure that this issue stays front-and-center until it is resolved, or our entire county will suffer the consequences.

  3. Release 100 goats at night and round them up in the morning!
    Problem Solved!
    Then we can have free goat cheese and milk!

  4. We are planning to be in Miami with. Our family from Ecuador sept 18-24. Even tho the beach may be kept clean the water will still have seaweed right? Such s hard time for tourism!

  5. How disingenuous blaming Brazil when the US lead the industrial revolution and was the number one contributor to polluting the environment. The focus now is on clean up instead of prevention… that is a failing strategy. Take some real action, punish the local polluters and maybe you start a chain reaction around the country and world. Take real leadership steps… otherwise kiss tourism goodbye as everyone will be focused on spending money on climate migration.

  6. Thanks, so much, Mayor, and thanks for your years of service! Why don’t we organize something at a county level to collect the seaweed and then offer it to residents to spread on their gardens as fertilizer?

    Our lovely Miami climate is wonderful for growing so many flowers, fruits and vegetables, but our sandy loam is often nutrient poor — seaweed is Nature’s solution to nourishing our gardens, while making our beaches more tourist friendly, too, isn’t it?

    We need a Miami-Dade County Commissioner to lead + pass a resolutin making it legal + easy for homeowners to collect + use seaweed on their gardens. Perhaps golf courses and condo buildings could use it on their landscaped paths, too?

    What about government buildings and schools enriching their soil and plants with seaweed fertilizer and mulch? It would enrich the earth, save precious water and set a fine example for our children, as to how to properly protect + husband the earth, wouldn’t it?

    Please see: https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/how-to-use-seaweed-to-mulch-your-garden/

    Please see: https://www.no-dig-vegetablegarden.com/seaweed-fertilizer.html

    Please see: https://grist.org/article/kelp-on-the-way/

    • Dr. Woods,

      Thank you for bringing this up! There are a lot of very innovative things we can do to turn this issue into an opportunity. I have been reading a lot about using Sargassum as fertilizer or bio-products and am very interested in the possibilities. I believe this is something the County should explore.

  7. Just another politician trying to capitalize on a natural event. I think it’s perfectly natural that Miami Beach would clear the beaches. But taking it further and spending taxpayer money on political BS about warming oceans, Fertilizer runoff’s in foreign countries, and other unproven theories, is just political BS. Unfortunately this is just another left wing political talking point for this year. Also the sea has not risen in Biscayne Bay. Political BS.

  8. This is not a political issue. The seaweed problem is real and will only get worse if we put our heads in the sand and pretend we do not see it.
    Florida relies on tourist dollars. Action must be taken promptly and efficiently.
    Thank you Mayor Penenlas for acting on this growing concern.

  9. I’m a resident of Miami Beach and have been aware of the problem of Sargassum affecting us.In my native country of Dominican Rep. We have successfully controlled it at Punta Cana Beach Resort by creating a barrier 7 kilometers long.
    We also process it and sell it to France and Canada.
    Contact me if you want to reach out to the company that has the contract.

  10. If Florida politicians really cared about the beach, they would be doing more to combat the red tides caused by big sugar and other agriculture in Florida. Plus, what consequences is FPL having for not following the clean water act and putting tritium (radioactive substance) in ocean waters and also causing salt water to enter our freshwater areas. What about FPL latest- now they have approval to inject radioactive substances underground where scientist have shown that fault lines occur that can cause these substances to move into our drinking water. This is all stuff happening in our backyard that we can control. Why don’t politicians work on that ?

    • I agree with “concerned citizen July 30 9:42am”. Well put, well said. I was born and grew up here and have seen these Sargassum weed events cycle on and off throughout my early childhood and adulthood years. It may be exasperated by global warming but Mayor Penelas, lets not take our eye off of those issues that have plagued us since before global warming and climate change was ever on the collective radar. Lets not loose another source of fresh drinking water, lets not continue to allow the by products of fertilizer and insecticide runoff kill our bay and coastal waters.

  11. The problem is limited to the breakwater around 28th to 32nd streets. They need an erosion expert to address the situation and then to straighten the beach so the seaweed doesn’t get trapped there. The May inundation remained there for weeks, while it cleared out from every other beach in days. The current program of tilling it back into the sand is the best compromise — except at the breakwater. Fix that and the problem is solved.
    Also, our weed — S. fluitans — is coming from the Gulf of Mexico. Very little of it is the S. natans variety coming up from Brazil. That’s all getting stuck on Caribbean beaches. Different problem that’s irrelevant to the situation at the breakwater.

  12. It is truly astounding that more than 99% of scientists agree that the climate emergency is real and mostly man-made. Consensus is the exception, not the rule in science. The entire discipline is based on skepticism. Scientists devote much of their time to poking holes in each other’s research methods and theories because there is no surer ticket to scientific glory than toppling accepted dogma. The pitched battles in some disciplines make politics seem tame by comparison. So why would scientists be fabricating a climate crisis? Are they spouting terrifying nonsense for the money? Let’s examine that more closely: The typical physicist/chemist/biologist gets 4 to 6 years of postdoctoral training and makes less than a plumber, which suggests that choosing to become a scientist in the first place is not motivated by money. Scientists fight over every crumb of government funding–and so competitive is science that only a small minority of research proposals ever get supported. What’s more, fabricating findings would not only bring infamy but also expulsion from faculties, loss of tenure, and no income. By my calculation, the only people who stand to gain from sowing seeds of doubt about the climate emergency are politicians and businesses which harm the environment and are major funders of these politicians’ campaigns. Everyone else loses.

  13. We cannot ignore this phenomena and close our eyes to the problems. Cleaning the beaches is good but implementing recycling in buildings should be a priority. Unless there is consequences unit tenants and owners will not recycle properly. Also the pick up of the recycling is inadequate, plastic, paper and boxes cannot be in the same bin. We have to do the right thing at home to be able to ask the others to do the same.

  14. I’ve read that Sargassum grows naturally in waters off the coast of Portugal and is an integral part of the the ecosystem. However, the water temperature has been warmer than usual, leading to its over growth and rapid spread. If that’s the problem , clean up efforts will only be a bandage. Global warming might be the problem and that is going to require a bigger solution beyond cleanup

  15. Unless you are here at the beach you have no idea how massive this problem is. This is beyond a clean up effort. It goes up the coast for miles, it’s also a problem at Key Biscayne. Only nature can correct this through a change in its forces, such as temperatures, tides and ocean currents.

  16. The problem is real, sargassum makes the waters dirty at the beach and can also cause some people to get rashes on their skin. It collects different bacteria and when you come in contact with it and can cause some people skin irritation and itching, like it did for my husband. Not to mention it is unpleasant and ugly and keeps you from seeing clear water. Cleanups need to be done regularly.

  17. <>

    Patently false!

    No mercy or respect by climate alarmists!

    Compare and contrast what NASA shares and doesn’t share:

    NASA:

    “This is all ultimately related to climate change, as climate affects precipitation and ocean circulation and even human activities [that can lead to Sargassum blooms], but what we’ve shown is that these blooms do not occur because of increased water temperature.” ~ Chuanmin Hu, College of Marine Science, Univ. of South Florida, via NASA website

    (https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2019/nasa-satellites-find-biggest-seaweed-bloom-in-the-world)

    Environmental Coast and Offshore:

    “The team identified key factors that are critical to bloom formation: a large seed population in the winter left over from a previous bloom, nutrient input from West Africa upwelling in winter, and nutrient input in the spring or summer from the Amazon River. Such discharged nutrients may have increased in recent years due to increased deforestation and fertilizer use, though Hu noted that the evidence for nutrient enrichment is preliminary and based on limited available data, and the team needs more research to confirm this hypothesis. In addition, Sargassum only grows well when salinity is normal and surface temperatures are normal or cooler.” ~ Ellen Gray

    (https://www.ecomagazine.com/news/science/nasa-satellites-find-biggest-seaweed-bloom-in-the-world)

    Facts/Evidence

    #1 = Sargassum only grows well when salinity is normal.

    #2 = Sargassum only grows well when surface temperatures are normal or cooler.

    #3 = the Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico has been rich with nutrients.

    #4 = Satellite imagery shows major blooms occurred annually between 2011 and 2018, except in 2013.

    #5 = No bloom occurred in 2013 because seed populations of Sargassum measured during winter of 2012 were unusually low.

    Logical inference:

    (a) Ocean surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico have been normal or cooler than previously recorded.

    (b) Ocean salinity levels in the Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico have been normal.

    (c) The Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico has been rich with nutrients.

    (d) Marine life (e.g., turtles, crabs, fish, birds) have benefitted from a healthy habitat.

    (e) Marine plants have produced increased oxygen via photosynthesis.

    (f) Hurricane formation can’t be blamed to increased ocean water temperatures.

    (g) Global warming and climate change premises have been debunked once again.

    Worth noting:

    <>

    Tons of research funding would dry up without ‘climate change’.

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