A form of seaweed known to scientists as Sargassum has been washing up on South Florida shores, and Florida Atlantic University (FAU) researchers warn its relationship with flesh-eating bacteria make it extremely dangerous.
Vibrio bacteria, found in waters all over the world, “are the dominant cause of death in humans from the marine environment,” according to FAU. These bacteria are now developing a unique ability to stick to and adapt to microplastics, which are now so prevalent they’ve been found at the world’s highest and lowest points, and even in unborn children.
“Our lab work showed that these Vibrio are extremely aggressive and can seek out and stick to plastic within minutes,” said Tracy Mincer, an assistant professor of biology at FAU. “We also found that there are attachment factors that microbes use to stick to plastics, and it is the same kind of mechanism that pathogens use.” (RELATED: Biden Admin Reverses Trump Policy Allowing Plastic Water Bottles At National Parks)
The researchers also found the bacteria possesses a specific “zot” gene, which produces toxins that increase permeability in the stomach lining of vertebrates, otherwise known as leaky gut syndrome. This malady can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream through perforations in the stomach, causing diarrhea or leading to more serious conditions like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome, according to Harvard Health.
Sargassum Seaweed is making its presence here on South Florida Beaches! Also, a residual Northeast swell from that non- tropical low that moved inland over SC. @natwxdesk @CBS12 @TND pic.twitter.com/Ali61FVo5l
— Michael Ehrenberg (@MichaelCBS12) May 29, 2023
Due to these zot genes, there is an increased likelihood of fish and other marine animals ingesting the bacteria and developing leaky gut syndrome increase. As a result, if a fish “gets infected by this Vibrio, which then results in a leaky gut and diarrhea, it’s going to release waste nutrients such nitrogen and phosphate that could stimulate Sargassum growth and other surrounding organisms,” Mincer said.
Cultivation-based data from the study shows Sargassum found on beaches containing high amounts of Vibrio bacteria.
“I don’t think at this point, anyone has really considered these microbes and their capability to cause infections,” Mincer warned. “We really want to make the public aware of these associated risks. In particular, caution should be exercised regarding the harvest and processing of Sargassum biomass until the risks are explored more thoroughly.” (RELATED: Massive Incoming Environmental Phenomenon Could Create ‘Dead Zones’ On Florida Beaches)
The bacteria and seaweed thrive in warm brackish water, according to the Daily Mail, and much of the Gulf of Mexico has seen a pronounced uptick of the smelly seaweed, which releases a smell like rotting eggs as it decomposes on the beach. Florida saw a major increase in Vibrio cases in the wake of Hurricane Ian in 2022 and beaches in the Caribbean and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula have begun to be coated with the Sargassum in the summer months, leading to what the Mail calls “unprecedented accumulation.”