How Sargassum Took Puerto Rico by Storm—Literally!

In an alarming first, Puerto Rico's iconic Crash Boat beach has been inundated with sargassum seaweed. This unprecedented event occurred amid the stormy aftermath of Hurricane Lee, complicating cleanup efforts.

How Sargassum Took Puerto Rico by Storm—Literally!
Mountains of sargassum seaweed accumulate on Crash Boat beach, marking a historic first for the iconic Puerto Rican shoreline. Credit: @lebiram†

In an unprecedented event, the iconic Crash Boat beach in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, received its first-ever flood of sargassum seaweed this week. This startling phenomenon comes at an already perilous time for the region, grappling with the maritime and coastal repercussions of Hurricane Lee.

Aguadilla Mayor Julio Roldán Concepción announced the unusual occurrence, expressing his astonishment over the situation. “This has never been seen in this area in Crash Boat. Ever,” he said. “I was born here, I live here and I die here. I know my beaches and everything.” The influx began three days ago and now has begun to accumulate on the beach, impeding the natural beauty and functionality of this popular destination.

The sargassum invasion is not limited to Crash Boat; nearby Peña Blanca beach also reports substantial accumulation. Photographs taken on Wednesday morning reveal mountains of sargassum stretching along its coastline. The dense influx of this marine vegetation is linked to the disruption of maritime conditions caused by Hurricane Lee, which seems to have nudged the sargassum toward the Puerto Rican shores.

For those unfamiliar, sargassum is a floating macroalgae that acts as a marine haven for various oceanic species, creating a living, feeding, and breeding environment. The sargassum seaweed is composed of two species: Sargassum Fluitans and S. Natans. While it plays a critical role in marine ecology, its excessive accumulation can become a health hazard and economic nuisance for coastal communities.

Tackling the Issue

Local authorities, aware of the sargassum's potential health and economic impact, have already initiated action plans. “We are waiting for these currents and this bad weather to leave, and we will be cleaning them up quickly,” Mayor Concepción assured, adding that local businesses had been informed to hold off on their cleaning efforts. This is a prudent decision to prevent wasted effort, as any cleared sargassum would likely be replaced in a matter of hours due to the current conditions.

Meanwhile, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) has mobilized a sargassum removal team to address the situation. “We have to wait until the swell is not strong so that the equipment and personnel are not at risk,” noted DNER Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega.

Recent reports indicate that the sargassum problem extends far beyond Puerto Rico. Satellite images have revealed floating islands of sargassum in the Atlantic and Caribbean waters. A study by the University of South Florida estimated nearly 2.5 million tons of sargassum in the west-central Atlantic last month. This elevated concentration, coupled with the storm-induced currents, may be contributing to this unprecedented landing on Puerto Rico's beaches.

The NOAA's Meteorological and Oceanographic Laboratory (AOML) has warned of a medium to high risk of sargassum coastal flooding for Puerto Rico. As climate change and human activity continue to affect oceanic conditions, events like these may no longer remain anomalies, but could instead become the new normal.

As authorities scramble to mitigate the immediate issue, the wider implications of this historic sargassum flood raise urgent questions about the future of our marine and coastal ecosystems. Amid the cleanup efforts, it's crucial to focus on longer-term strategies and international cooperation to manage this growing threat effectively.

Impressive amount of sargassum in Crash Boat in Aguadilla due to the strong swells that are being registered on the north coast of Puerto Rico.
DNER technical personnel and biologists went to the Crash Boat beach in Aguadilla to collect the sargassum that reached the municipality's shores.