While beachcombers may find seaweed to be a bit pesky, it actually plays an important role in ocean ecology! Floating sargassum weed acts as an offshore estuary, providing habitat for a large variety of marine life such as shrimp, crabs, and small fish that seek food, and protection from the ocean’s predators, as well as a mode of transportation that might take them on long journeys. Juvenile sea turtles also may also use the floating mats for protection, feeding and transport such as seen in the movie “Turtle: The Incredible Journey,” on sale now in the Gumbo Limbo Gift Shop. In addition, floating sargassum attracts game fish, increasing catches for offshore anglers.
Once on shore, it provides a vital part of the food chain for many native bird species. The nutrient rich seaweed also fertilizes the shoreline, increasing dune plant growth while helping to retain our precious shorelines. According to Dr. Kirt Rusenko, Marine Conservationist at Gumbo Limbo, beachraking equipment is allowed to remove seaweed to 10 feet from the dune vegetation during Boca’s seasonal months, however during turtle season, is only removed to the mean high tide line so as to protect nesting habitats further inland. Dr. Rusenko further explains that in each case, all trash, such as plastics, is removed by hand from Sargassum and before it is buried on the beach to provide fertilizer for the dune plants.
Next time you are at the beach, scoop up a clump of the seaweed and look carefully to see the small, well camouflaged creatures clinging to the weed and think of its benefits!
Contributed to the Boca Raton E-News by Cindy King Papadoyianis