There's good news for beach towns threatened by massive seaweed bloom

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(NEXSTAR) – Many late summer vacationers to Florida, the Caribbean and parts of Mexico will have cleaner beaches to look forward to, thanks to a shrinking seaweed mass that threatened to overwhelm coastal communities.

University of South Florida researchers said Monday the quantity of seaweed in the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt “decreased substantially” between June and July.

The seaweed belt remains huge – there’s an estimated 6 million tons of sargassum still floating around – but it’s down several million tons in just a few months. That’s good news for residents, visitors and workers of beach areas of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

The problem with this type of seaweed, sargassum, isn’t with it floating out in the ocean. The issues start when it comes on land and starts to rot. As it decays, sargassum lets off hydrogen sulfide and smells like rotten eggs, explains the Florida Department of Health.

It can irritate people’s eyes, nose and throat, and trigger breathing issues for people with asthma.

Some of this could still be happening in the Florida Keys and southeast Florida, the researchers said, but the amount washing up is less than earlier in the summer.

Beachgoers pick their way past sargassum on Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Looking forward, things are expected to get even better. “The sargassum growing season is now over,” said the University of South Florida report.

They expect just a small amount of sargassum to be found in the Gulf of Mexico next month, and a moderate amount in the Caribbean Sea.

While the overall amount of potentially toxic seaweed is declining, some beaches will still get hit with waves of it, the researchers said. Last month, for example, Mexico’s Yucatan coast and the west side of Jamaica actually saw more sargassum, even as most places saw less.

By October, they forecast “minimal” sargassum levels in all regions.

If you do see sargassum, the Florida Department of Health recommends beachgoers avoid touching or swimming near it. The small creatures that live inside it, like jellyfish larvae, could sting or cause your skin to itch.

The department also suggests using gloves if you have to handle sargassum and closing windows if you live near the beach to avoid breathing issues and bad smells.

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