Adian and Sydney O'Connor look through the seaweed in
search of sea beans while on the beach in Ocean Ridge. Tim Stepien.The Coastal Star
By Antigone Barton
It can be a puzzling sight: mounds of newly arrived seaweed lying in the tracks of the truck that was just there, weaving across the beach, raking the sand.
But it’s been a common sight in recent weeks, as beach cleaners struggled to keep up with unusually dense seaweed, the result of strong easterly winds.
The seaweed comes from a line of vegetation that runs by the Gulf Stream — an underwater grazing site, so to speak, popular with fish, and deep sea anglers — said David Rowland of The Beach Keeper, one of several services whose trucks tidy area sands.
His and other services aim to send seaweed back where it belongs, by raking it into the outgoing tide.
Lately that has been a Sisyphean task, however.
“We can rake Lantana beach at 8 a.m., and at 9 a.m. it would look like we had never been there,” Rowland said.
Not quite: On a recent morning a Beach Keeper driver got out of his truck to pick out the plastic bottles, cups, buckets, pieces of tackle boxes, tangled in the seaweed, until the garbage can tied to his truck was nearly full.
And, in any case while the seaweed may once again be more abundant than usual, it’s not any worse than last year, or the year before, when a hard east wind ushered in what we call spring here.
There was a time, Rowland recalls, a few years ago, when the strips of seaweed that narrow the beach now were more like mountains.
That seaweed surge, caused by an offshore hurricane, created an actual barrier between beach-goer and ocean, according to Tim Greener of Beach Raker, a Pompano Beach-based beach-cleaning company that serves beaches from Miami to Highland Beach.
With stretches two feet high and several feet wide, it took two weeks to clear.
And, says Rowland, at levels like that, the seaweed poses dangers to turtle hatchlings, trying to make their way back to the water.
“I’ve got pictures of turtles that died trying to get across it,” Rowland said.
That in itself does not call for removing the seaweed, said Larry Wood, a conservation biologist at the Palm Beach Zoo.
“That’s all part of nature,” Wood said. He compares those casualties to ones that might come from predators that hatchlings might face.
While heavy machinery was not part of nature’s plan, Wood said, rules and guidelines — keeping trucks from sand above the high tide line, and off the beach until volunteers have completed daily nest counts — help.
“As long as there are a couple of rules to be observed,” he said. “People want the beach to look a certain way, and if it doesn’t they want to change it.”