Caribbean swamped by seaweed that smells like rotten eggs
From Belize to Barbados, tourist beaches have been swamped by huge tides of foul-smelling sargassum – and climate change could make the problem worse
“It was like something out of a science fiction movie,” says Barbara Hall from the office of the beachside hotel she runs in Placencia, southern Belize.
“I woke up at 6am, looked out my window and realised we had a big problem. It was absolutely overwhelming.”
The sight that greeted her that morning was a gargantuan tide of sargassum – a type of ocean seaweed that had swept in overnight. At sea, sargassum is an essential habitat for some marine life, but when it reaches land it rots, sucking up oxygen from the water and emitting hydrogen sulphide gas, which smells like rotten eggs.
It has washed up in the Caribbean in unusually large amounts since 2011, but this year the largest volumes ever have appeared on shores from Barbados to Mexico, with piles several feet deep stretching for miles, and dozens of metres out to sea.