Christopher Columbus, on his way to the Caribbean, sailed through the Sargasso Sea, which is named for the sargassum seaweed that collects in the North Atlantic as the result of circular sea currents. The name is from the Portuguese word sargaça which means small grapes . These miniature air pods are responsible to for the buoyancy of the massive fields of vegetation that can span thousands of miles. The plants have no roots and they never touch the sea bottom. Nevertheless these fields of vegetation are the habitat for numerous sea creatures. Ever wonder where the baby sea turtles go after their mad dash to the sea ? They seek shelter and food in the floating seaweed.
Alas, there can be too much of a good thing. Between 2011 and 2018 massive amounts of sargassum made it to the beaches of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico , often piled unattractively by tides and wave action in to mounds that are many feet high . The rotting vegetation releases a bit of a stench that by the account of one jewelry store owner in Belize is corrosive enough to blacken silver and to damage gold plating.
The scientist are debating the cause of the recent massive blooms which remain controversial. Maybe increased nutrient runoff from the Mississippi and Amazon rivers, maybe increased sea temperatures or even increased atmospheric CO2. Nobody is willing to say for sure. Whatever the reason there has been relatively little of the weed this year which is perhaps the one saving grace of 2020… unless of course you are a juvenile loggerhead turtle.
Good new for the sailor is that protected harbors we seek are typically on the lee side of islands which are generally free of flotsam. So we can view sargassum as mostly a good thing .