Seaweed invasion fouls Galveston beaches

May 9, 2012 4:36:26 PM PDT
There's something creeping up on the shores along the coast. We see it every year just in time for the arrival of summer tourists. Seaweed -- and lots of it.

Some residents say it's the worst they've ever seen, and in some cases, even large trees are washing up on the beach. The seaweed washing up on Galveston beaches has traveled a long way to get here, and it's not going away any time soon. Some visitors wonder why it's not cleared away.

Katheryn Nunnally made her first visit to a Galveston beach on Wednesday but what she found wasn't quite what she expected.

"It's a little off-putting," she said. "Our beach experience has been the panhandle of Florida, where you have the beautiful white sand and emerald beach."

This is just the season for Sargassum seaweed, says Kelly de Schaun, Executive Director of the Galveston Island Park Board. And there's more of it -- a lot more of it -- coming.

"The seaweed actually starts in the Sargasso Sea between Europe and the United States," de Schaun explained. "It travels down into the Caribbean and then up through the Gulf stream."

The park board will push the seaweed to the seawall, or the sand dunes to clean up the water's edge, but won't remove it entirely, saying it's an important part of the ecosystem. The seaweed protects the beaches and dunes from erosion and enriches the sand.

Folks who live on Galveston Island seem to take the Sargassum in stride.

"It really doesn't bother me much," said beach visitor Tyler Fletcher. "I mean, we're not setting up in the middle of it, you know?"

The waves will push the Sargassum onto Galveston beaches through the summer.

De Schaun said, "It seems to coincide, unfortunately, with our tourist season."

But for first-time visitors, it's still off-putting, although not enough to keep them away.

"If this is part of the ecosystem, this is what you have to, you know, accommodate," Nunnally said.

There are some beaches where the park board does not push the seaweed back. Those are designated natural areas. The beach along the seawall is probably the best maintained, because of the number of visitors.


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