HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) – Marine research scientists with the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) worked with the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Barbados to better understand the threat of pelagic Sargassum to the Caribbean islands and on both sides of the tropical Atlantic.

Pelagic Sargassum is a floating marine macroalgae that occurs in the North Atlantic Ocean. However, scientists said the vast amount of this algae that has shown up in the Caribbean Sea and along island shorelines since 2011 is overwhelming.

The algae creates an air quality issue for people who live and visit there. Scientists said coral reefs, mangroves and beach nesting grounds are being overwhelmed.

“It’s an ongoing, dramatically invasive issue, impacting Caribbean island shorelines and the livelihoods of many island inhabitants, and our work is focused on working collaboratively with UWI marine scientists in an effort to understand why such an event is happening regionally and to help predict future occurrences,” said Dr. Jim Franks, a fisheries biologist.

The research is being funded by a grant to USM from the UWI under the leadership of marine fisheries scientist Dr. Hazel Oxenford, a faculty member in the UWI Center for Resource Management and Environmental Studies.

The universities are preparing to use the combination of climate related research and fisheries management to help keep Caribbean fisheries operational despite the extreme threats from Sargassum.