Seaweed Causes Foul Smell On East End Beaches Over Weekend


As East Quogue resident Chris Gobler took to Quogue beach for his daily run on Saturday morning, the marine scientist was hit with a wave—not of salty ocean water, but rather of a foul odor emanating from dry algae and decomposing marine life that had collected on the sand.

“It would certainly inhibit your beach experience,” Dr. Gobler said. “In some areas, it covered 50 percent of the beach, from the high water mark to the dunes.”

Late last week, an unusually large amount of washed-up seaweed and algae was reported by those visiting beaches in western Southampton Town, the exact cause of which is unknown but has been widely speculated to be the result of last week’s heavy rains and higher-than-average tides.

Much of the seaweed washed ashore during a storm last Wednesday, August 13, which also caused massive flooding along Dune Road and across other parts of Long Island. According to officials overseeing the public beaches in Westhampton Beach, more seaweed than normal was pushed ashore during the midweek storm before drying and emitting an unpleasant odor.

Dr. Gobler, a professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said the ulva lactuca, or sea lettuce, he observed on the beach likely originated in Shinnecock Bay or Moriches Bay, and was pulled out through the respective inlets for each before being washed ashore.

Large algal blooms are common in the bays, which are rich—and often over-saturated—with nitrates. Dr. Gobler said it’s unusual to have such large deposits of seaweed, but the unique circumstances of last week might explain why the micro-algae made it so far up the beach.

“The full moon was last week also, so that may well have contributed,” he said. “You get a full moon and high winds, it can push the algae way up on the beach.”

The storm slammed the western regions of Long Island, with the National Weather Service recording more than 13 inches of rain falling in Islip Town on August 13.

On Saturday, Westhampton Beach Department of Public Works personnel used a payloader to remove the seaweed from both Rogers and Lashley beaches on Dune Road. Those visiting and working the Quantuck Beach Club, also on Dune Road in the village, reported smelling the same odor as early as last Thursday.

Quantuck Beach Club Manager Dave Riley said he spotted brown micro-algae and sea salps washed ashore, too, which he said contributed to the smell.

“From what I could tell this all meshed together almost like resin and fiberglass do, and left 10- to 20-foot-wide tracks that run for miles east to west,” Mr. Riley wrote in an email. “I know there was a strip from Rogers Beach in [Westhampton Beach] past the surf club in Quogue. As the sun cooked this stuff and the wind blew it around, it was actually unbearable, and sometimes too thick to rake.”

Erin McKinley contributed to this report.

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