Sargassum, the Gulf & Texas Beaches

The pelagic brown algae, Sargassum natans, is a regular visitor to the shores of the Texas Gulf coast. The floating seaweed is a habitat to numerous species of vertebrates and invertebrates, several of which are exclusive to the Sargassum. Many sports fisherman in the Gulf look for the “weed lines” , as more often than not, dorado, triple-tail, and other game fish are associated with the seaweed.Eventually the floating mats of seaweed make it to the coast. Here is where the controversy begins, especially in Texas. Much of the economy of coastal Texas depends on tourism, with visitors to the beach a primary draw. The beach is also the playground of locals as well. The naturalists among them will take kids and grandkids out to the water, between the shoreline and the first sandbar, pickle buckets in tow, drop a clump of Sargassum into the bucket, and spend the time discovering the numerous life forms hiding in the seaweed. Other tourists, and some locals, have different expectations of what the beach should be like. They see the seaweed as a nuisance, same as the litter and trash that washes up from the Gulf. This line of thinking has many supporters who feel it is their job to make sure that the tourists are not inconvenienced by something like seaweed.Municipal and county beach maintenance managers, being political entities, often rely on the various Tourist and Visitors Bureaus, Chambers of Commerce, and tradition, to shape their beach management plans. In most locals on the Texas coast, heavy machinery are used on a daily basis to scrape away all signs of seaweed on the beach. This practice does make the beach resemble somewhere else, maybe like beaches where seaweed is not an issue, making it look “resort-like” . The problems as a result of these practices are several. First, sand is removed along with the seaweed by the heavy machinery. This may lead to beach erosion on beaches that are already seeing erosion rates of 3′ to 10′ per year, depending on location. Second, where will the seaweed-sand load be placed once it is removed? Third, suppose that the beach is scraped at 7 AM, the beach is crowded with people by 10 AM, and the beach scrapers can’t get to the beach for a second (or third) pass. The seaweed continues to wash in all day and night. Fourth, many species of shorebirds are found to be exploiting the washed up seaweed, as each clump contains food – shrimp, crabs, nudibranchs, etc., and many beach visitors want to see this type of interaction.The Sargassum Symposium of 2008 and 2009 were conceived and designed to explore these and many other practical issues of beach management and maintenance. Visit the website for video and Power Point presentations made during these 2 symposia.One important thing learned at these symposia was that Sargassum on the beach is but a part of the big picture of beach management, especially as the topic of beach erosion is brought to bear, ie no beach – no beach goers. More to the point, subsequent Symposia will focus on all aspects of beach management in Texas, especially education. Education of not only the beach going public, but of the decision makers, hoteliers, visitors bureaus, chambers of commerce, business community, and the beach managers, will be the focus.John S. Adams is a member of Team Sargassum, with Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi’s Division of Nearshore Researchimage credits: Image 1 – Sargassum from space – the white strands are seaweed lines in the Gulf of Mexico. Data provided by the European Space Agency (ESA). Image provided by the Institute of Ocean Sciences (IOS), Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Image funding by the Canadian Space Agency. The scientific reference is to Jim Gower, Chuanmin Hu, Gary Borstad and Stephanie King, 2006, “Ocean color satellites show extensive lines of floating Sargassum in the Gulf of Mexico,” IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, 44, 3619-3625. Image 2 – Sargassum at Mustang Island State Park, May 2007. Courtesy of Coastal Studies Group, Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin

Scroll to Top