Jaws may have made everyone scared to get into the water, but there’s a far more common and more mundanely aggravating nuisance in beaches throughout the world. Sargassum seaweed washes up on beaches as far-flung as Miami and Cancun, and it continues to be a problem on both the mainland beaches and the cayes of Belize. If you’re planning a trip to Belize, sargassum is a factor to be concerned about — but it won’t be a nuisance if you just understand the basics.

What is Sargassum?

Sargassum is a type of brown seaweed that’s believed to have originated in the Northern Atlantic Ocean, but it’s now showing up on beaches throughout much of the world. The factor distinguishing sargassum from most other types of seaweed is that it never attaches to the seafloor and instead gathers in floating masses that can sometimes reach miles in length.

Why is it a Problem?

Sargassum is an obvious eyesore, but there’s a good chance you’ll smell it before you see it. Beached Sargassum is made of decomposing matter that emits hydrogen sulfide, a gas that’s toxic to humans. Even if you could stand the smell of getting anywhere near the seaweed, it would be at the expense of your own health. At the same time, this type of seaweed poses a threat to the aquatic life it shares an ecosystem with.

Why is it Here?

While it was originally thought that sargassum developed in the frosty waters of the North Atlantic, that question is currently in debate — and an understanding of where it came from is currently compounded by the fact that it’s suddenly showing up in the Caribbean in larger masses. Some are attributing the cause to fertilizer runoff and rising global and regional temperatures, but that doesn’t give anyone much help in developing a solution.

Is Belize Safe to Visit?

Belize is absolutely safe to visit, but you’ll want to pick a resort that you’re sure you can depend on. Regulations are in place for properly disposing of sargassum, and having the help of experts who know the beaches and are respectful of how to deal with it can really make a difference on your trip. Black Orchid Resort is the place to go if you want access to both clean beaches and the most pristine stretches of jungle in the country.