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Sargassum, Galveston's Seaweed that Won't Quit

Update 2:20p: We included comments from Texas A&M researcher Robert Webster.

We thought we'd be in the clear by now, or close to it, but the seaweed invasion continues. Photos taken today from the shores of Galveston show an extremely green body of water that looks utterly gross.

While tourists might not like it, it's good eatin' for sea turtles, reports KHOU.

"They'll basically feed on all the algae, the crabs and shrimps and other creatures that live in the sargassum, so that's basically a big raft, a floating ecosystem," Andy Krauss, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, told KHOU.

So what's not good for enjoying the beach is good for grown turtles (but not the little ones, which researchers are trying to save from getting washed up on shore).

Texas A&M researcher Robert Webster assured us that the onslaught of seaweed still isn't as bad as we had it in April and May. What might make you think otherwise is the giant wracks of seaweed piled up on beaches on the island. "We're still getting moderate amounts of sargassum on the beach; the season isn't over," Webster, who studies most of the Texas coastline, said.

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"The thing that intrigues us as scientists, if you look over the history of Galveston Island, there's been cycles, but since 2000, those cycles have changed," Webster said. Records of sargassum hitting the shores go back 160 years; the current trend is a signal the environment is changing. "Now, there's an unknown of why this is doing this with this regularity."

Still, the seaweed's more trouble than it's worth for the economic engine that helps run Galveston. The Houston Chronicle reported on changes in environmental policies in dealing with sargassum.

A three-day seaweed ambush earlier in the spring caused the vegetation to pile up, prompting crews to bring out the heavy machinery - front-end loaders to move mounds of sargassum several feet high in places.

The mass of sargassum has forced the Park Board to temporarily abandon its policy of leaving seaweed where it washes ashore to trap sand and help fight wave erosion. "There's a fine line between balancing that environmental protection with economic development," said Kelly de Schaun, executive director of the Galveston Island Park Board of Trustees.

When we asked Webster for any alternative beaches with a bit less sargassum, he told us he didn't want to encourage people to go elsewhere. But don't worry, we'll get that info to you soon. As it stands, the sargassum assault could last for another month or more.

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