After what seems like weeks of rain, the sun is finally peaking through the clouds and the beach is beckoning residents to the shores. But, you might want to hold off on grabbing your swimsuit and sunblock a little longer because the beaches are covered with smelly, brown seaweed thanks to Subtropical storm Alberto.
Premature Alberto — hurricane season officially starts Friday — brought heavy rain, wind, no-swim advisories and flood warnings across Palm Beach County this past weekend.
Jupiter got off easy with the rain. In 96 hours, the town only received about 2 inches unlike a mile south of Juno Beach, which got a whopping 5.36 inches, according to the National Weather Service in Miami.
In addition to rain, Alberto brought winds that pushed mounds of sargassum onto the shores, according to Brian Lapointe, who studies sargassum and algal blooms for Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.
Lapointe said sargassum washing up on the beach is normal after storms or steady east winds. “When there is more rain and more nitrogen, it feeds the sargassum,” he said. “And then the winds bring it to the shore.”
Michael Stahl, deputy director of environmental resources management for Palm Beach County, said the county will see an increase in the amount of sargassum on the beaches whenever there are strong east winds.
Beaches also are seeing more of the seaweed now because of the season.
“The sargassum appears to grow in the winter,” said Lapointe. “Then this time of the year, late spring and early summer, as the winds are changing, we see the sargassum out in the oceans near Florida.” This means the sargussum is more likely to be washed ashore Florida beaches in windy conditions.
And how do you know if it is sargassum? Lapointe said sargassum is brownish in color and has little air pockets that look like berries.
At Carlin Park beach and Jupiter Beach Park mounds of seaweed tangled with garbage, leaves, driftwood and seashells, lined the shore. At DuBois Park there were some clumps, but not as much as the other two beaches.
While some beachgoers might want these smelly piles gone, it’s not that easy. Beach officials can’t send out the tractors to clean it up because it’s sea turtle nesting season, which runs through Oct. 31, and the tractors could damage the turtle’s nests.
Stahl said that in general the county “discourages raking” the sagassum because it’s beneficial to the beach and dune ecosystem.
“It’s more a temporary nuisance,” said Stahl. “The sargassum breaks down quickly or becomes buried by the sand.”