Seaweed accumulation at Beach Access 13 on Siesta Key triggers cleaning initiative, per county policy

Shoreline debris appears to be sargassum seaweed

 Early in the afternoon of Tuesday, June 27, Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis reported via email to the county commissioners that county staff was seeing “high levels of seaweed at some of our beaches.”

Staff was monitoring the situation, he said, in the event that the accumulation proved significant enough to trigger the county’s beach-cleaning policy.

Lewis provided several photos with his email, showing dense swaths of seaweed at Beach Access 13 on Siesta Key, the southernmost pathway to the beach on that barrier island. The largest portion of the material was right at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, as shown in those photos.

The address of Beach Access 13 is 6900 Point of Rocks Road.

The following day, just before 4 p.m., Lewis forwarded to the commissioners an email from Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR).

“Most of our beaches have seen improvement overnight,” she noted. However, she continued, the situation at Beach Access 13 had met the threshold of accumulation stipulated in the county’s beach-cleaning policy.

Then Rissler pointed out, “Our debris contractor was onsite today for an initial meeting and will mobilize tomorrow with work commencing at Beach Access 13 on Friday (June 30). At this time none of our other beaches have met a threshold for special conditions cleaning.”

She attached several photos to her email, showing the conditions at Siesta Public Beach Park, at the North Jetty in Nokomis and at Nokomis, Manasota and Brohard beaches.

Rissler’s photos of the seaweed at Access 13 indicated to The Sarasota News Leader that it is from the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, which stretches from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico, as WUSF has reported.

“The brown algae travels from a place aptly called the Sargasso Sea in the North Central Atlantic every year,” WUSF pointed out in a late March report. “While biologists have recorded the mass growing to record sizes in the past five years,” WUSF continued, “this year’s floating algae pile is setting no new records.”

Already, by that point of the spring, the “blob” — as many members of the news media were calling it, WUSF noted — had been making news for weeks.

A marine biologist at Florida Gulf Coast University, Barry Rosen, told WUSF that the sargassum migration is a “normal, healthy environmental fact of ocean life.” He explained that sargassum piles in the Atlantic Ocean, for example, “are critical ecosystems that serve as shelter for baby sea turtles and a host of other creatures until they grow larger.”

The organism has been observed in the Caribbean for a decade, at least, if not longer, Rosen added.

(For images of the seaweed at Beach Access 13, visit the News Leader‘s Facebook page.)