‘Perfect pathogen storm’ could harm people along Florida beaches

Published: Updated:

Sargassum, vibrio and marine debris plastics interacting together off our coasts make what scientists call the “perfect pathogen storm.”

The seaweed called sargassum is a naturally occurring alga that formed a 5,000-mile-wide brown carpet in the Atlantic this year and is now gradually covering Miami’s beaches.

Vibrio is a bacteria important in aquaculture in some ways.

“But also the number one cause of mortality and infection from the oceans,” said Dr. Tracey John Mincer, assistant professor of biology at Florida Atlantic University.

And the third piece of the perfect pathogen storm is man-made plastics.

“We’ve put so much plastic into the ocean in that it’s created a whole new habitat for certain organisms to start to interact with,” Mincer said.

Mincer and his team are looking deeper into organisms like vibrio and other bacteria.

“We found attachment mechanisms that vibrios and other bacteria are using to stick specifically to plastics,” Mincer said. “We’ve done experiments where we take in plastics and dip them into seawater for a minute or two, and then what’s really striking is, you know, there’s things that find it, settle on it, and are attaching.”

Essentially, vibrio has evolved to hitch a ride on and thrive on the plastic put into the ocean. Together, they pose threats to marine life and our health.

“It’s a pressure that organisms, animals have to bear, living in that area,” Mincer said. “We found the guts of these fish with plastics in them.”

And while Mincer says this won’t stop him from going into the ocean, it’s something he wants everyone to be mindful of.

“I want to make people aware that when all the sargassum washes up on the beach, these vibrio organisms could be there in high numbers,” Mincer said.

Pilot research from Mincer shows vibrio numbers go up as it sits on the beach.

If you’re on a beach that has sargassum, wash yourself off after coming in contact with it, especially if you have open cuts.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.