-The sargassum seaweed has piled up several feet deep in South Florida and other regions, becoming a plague for tourists and wildlife alike. It also rots quickly on land and creates a stink.
"It's much worse today than it's ever been," said Stephen "Dr. Beach" Leatherman, a professor at Florida International University in Miami. "On the Gulf Coast and in South Florida, there's always been some seaweed, and it was dealt with by plowing it under the sand. But they can't plow it under now, because it's just too much. So they have to haul it."
Sargassum seaweed is a type of brown or yellowish algae, like kelp or the more commonly eaten wakame found in typical seaweed salads. It can be used as fertilizer if composted properly, and can be eaten if cleaned and cooked properly.
But it is not considered to be among the most edible seaweeds because of its rough texture and bitter taste, according to a report from the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism. Research has shown that it can contain toxic heavy metals.
Miami-Dade County in Florida alone has estimated hauling all the seaweed would cost $45 million per year. The county's parks department received special permits from the state in early August to use bulldozers, tractors and raking machines during hatching season for sea turtles.
The county is trying to haul away only the worst spots and chop up or bury it in other areas, a combined approach still estimated to cost millions of dollars per month.
Upscale areas in Palm Beach and Broward counties in Florida have been impacted by huge deposits of seaweed, which drive vacationers away from the beaches and toward alternate ways to enjoy vacations or time off from business events.
Leatherman concurred that seaweed is having a dramatic effect on the popularity of certain beaches, and he will have to take it into account on his annual ranking of the best beaches in America.
One chain of beach resorts in the Caribbean, Bahia Principe, claims on its website and on social media that it installed barrier systems that reduce seaweed on its beachfronts by 95 percent. It has several resorts on the north coast of the Dominican Republic.