GALVESTON — Dr. Samuel Brody, director of the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores, announced recently that Texas A&M University at Galveston will receive a one-year, $100,000 grant from NASA to address seaweed problems plaguing the Texas coast.
Not only does seaweed, known as sargassum, blight Texas beaches with decaying material, but it also may cause loss of revenue for coastal communities depending on tourism for their local economies.
Coastal tourism, a $7 billion industry, and commercial fishing, a $1.9 billion business, demand clean beaches and a healthy Gulf to thrive, according to the Texas General Land Office.
Sargassum, periodically and unpredictably blankets any of the 367 miles of Texas coastline.
Born in the Sargasso Sea, the seaweed follows a route for thousands of miles, from the mid-Atlantic to Texas beaches, creating a decaying carpet and sending tourists, beachcombers, surfers, swimmers and fishers packing.
To address this problem, marine scientists Tom Linton and Robert Webster have been working to predict sargassum landings on Texas beaches.
Their project, titled “Forecasting Sargassum Drift in the Gulf of Mexico,” which was also funded by NASA, started three years ago.
Webster has been issuing “Early Warning Forecasts” of Sargassum landings; based on a predictive model he and a Texas A&M research team developed by gathering and analyzing satellite data about Sargassum.
With this information, they alert beach managers in towns and municipalities on the Texas coast from Beaumont to Brownsville to mobilize crews and equipment in advance for cleanup of the seaweed.
“Our model, SEAS, short for Sargassum Early Warning System, has given us a very accurate predictive capability,” Webster said. “We can now predict up to 16 days in advance when Sargassum will make landfall.”
Webster said one of the team’s goals is to predict landfall up to six months in advance.
“We hope to expand the predictive capability to six months so managers can have cost budgeted through the regular annual budgeting process instead of, possibly, having to seek emergency funding to conduct cleanup operations,” Linton said.