Invasion of the Sargassum Weed

Author:
Publish date:
An ecosystem like no other within the North Atlantic Gyre. Photo by Sebastian Smith

An ecosystem like no other within the North Atlantic Gyre. Photo by Sebastian Smith

We were a couple of hundred miles out of Bermuda on the 39ft cutter Lunacy, en route to St. Martin, when the small floating islands of brown seaweed that dotted the ocean started to become a nuisance. Clumps of it wrapped around the keel and rudder, and skipper Charlie Doane grew increasingly annoyed at the amount of time he spent with a boathook trying to clear the Aries vane gear’s paddle. We even had to stop the boat a few times to let the weed fall off the foils.

Doane struck similar problems a few months later when sailing with ARC founder Jimmy Cornell from Ft. Lauderdale to Panama, and in between those dates the entire Caribbean island chain had been inundated—if that’s the word—with the errant Sargassum weed, for that’s what it is, the same stuff that’s been driving mariners nuts for centuries in the Sargasso Sea. Indeed, there have been reports of the unsightly brown weed as far north as New York.

The Sargasso Sea lies mainly south and east of Bermuda in the Atlantic Gyre, a 2 million-square mile ellipse of water bordered by slowly rotating ocean currents. The sheer amount of weed, combined with the prevailing calms, gave rise to torrid tales of ships becoming entangled in the grip of these massive rafts of algae.

So why is the Sargasso Sea apparently heading west? Sargassum weed has always been present in U.S. coastal waters—Pacific as well as Atlantic—but not to this extent. The sheer volume of it has choked beaches and affected tourism from Trinidad to the Carolinas. Biologists cite rising sea temperatures as one reason for the algae’s proliferation, which means this weed isn’t going away anytime soon.

If you can look past the stench of decomposing weed on the beaches and the nuisance value of its clogging your engine water intake, Sargassum weed actually has a lot going for it. It’s a home and food source for a vast assortment of marine life forms—sea turtles apparently love the stuff—and has been described as “the rainforest of the oceans.”

Read "The Mysterious Life of the Sargasso Sea" here

September 2015

Related

albintoilet

Gear: Albin Pump Marine Toilet

Head Start Is there room for a new marine toilet? Albin Pump Marine thinks so, having just introduced its line of Swedish-built heads—ranging from compact to full-size models—to the American market. The toilets feature vitreous porcelain bowls and either wooden or thermoplastic ...read more

07n_45R2699

Multihull Sailor: Classic Cats

If you’re looking for a decent sub-40ft cruising cat, you have few choices when it comes to new-boat offerings. It is a well-known fact that the multihull market has taken off in a way very few could have predicted. Despite Hurricane Irma’s recent destruction of a large part of ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Thanks a bunch  This scene is very calm and seamanlike. No frantic rope throwing or shouting. As he passes the line to the gent on the dock, the crew on the boat says, quietly and clearly, “Would you ...read more

mcarthy-and-mouse

Experience: McCarthy and the Mouse

Sitting at the helm in a light breeze, my arms crusted with a fine rime of salt, my skin so dry I’d lost my fingerprints, I heard a clatter and a curse from below. There were only three of us a thousand miles from shore and only one on watch at a time. Usually, the off watch lay ...read more

2018-giftGuide

2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Brass Yacht Lamp Does someone on your gift list spend the whole winter missing the warm days on the water? Let them bring a little bit of nautical atmosphere home with this new lamp from Weems & Plath. The glass enclosure means the flame cannot be blown out even by ...read more

image001

Opinion: On Not Giving Up Sailing

E.B. White was 64 when he wrote his now-famous essay “The Sea and the Wind That Blows,” which begins as a romantic paean to sailing and then drifts, as if spun around by a pessimistic eddy of thought, into a reflection on selling his boat. Does an aging sailor quit while he’s ...read more

1812-JeanneaueNewsVideo

Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 410

Designed by Marc Lombard, the Sun Odyssey 410 shares much in common with her older siblings including of course, the walk-around deck. Other features that set the 410 apart from other models being introduced this year include the 410’s “negative bow” shape allowing for a longer ...read more