New NASA-Texas A&M-Galveston App Allows Public To Track Seaweed Hitting Texas Coast

Working with NASA scientist, Texas A&M University at Galveston researchers unveiled  today  a first-of-its kind app to track seaweed – technically called sargassum -- as it approaches the Texas Coast.

Called SEAS (Sargassum Early Advisory System), the new app will provide valuable information to tourists, fishermen, boaters and the general public on the direction of the seaweed and the hour it should hit a certain part of the coast.  Huge floating mats of sargassum have plagued Texas beaches in  recent years,  and last year immense mounds of the seaweed were stacked almost 10 feet high  in and around the Galveston area, and local officials said it was the worst such seaweed incident in at least the last 50 years.

Texas A&M Galveston marine scientists Tom Linton and Robert Webster, along with NASA’s Duane Armstrong and Gene Jones, unveiled the new app during the 2015 Gulf Coast Sargassum Symposium held at the Galveston Island Convention Center. 

“As far as we know, this is the only app of its kind in the world, and it has been more than a year in the development stages,” says Linton. “What makes this unique is the use of satellite imagery provided by NASA, and without it, this system would not be possible.”

“A wide variety of stakeholders, such as beach managers, fishermen, tourists and the public will benefit from this new app.”

To access the app, users should go to http://sargassum.tamug.edu

Linton added that “last year, the sargassum was piled up in such huge mounds that the smell was just awful.  The seaweed itself does not smell that bad, but when you shake it, all sorts of dead marine life such as small fish, crabs and other creatures, that have been living in the sargassum for weeks start to decompose, and it can get very smelly.”

Armstrong said NASA was interested in developing the app because of public interest in sargassum after several waves of the material washed up on Texas beaches the last few years.

The new app cost about $175,000 to develop but its benefits could be immeasurable, he notes.

“This will help people be better prepared and to make key decisions about events that are about to take place,” he adds.

 “This is the best early warning system we have right now to track the seaweed.  After last year, we know there is a huge demand for such early information that this app will provide.”

The new app can also track red tide, which is a harmful algae that also appears frequently on the Texas Coast.  Red tide can produce toxins that can disrupt seafood harvesting and pose a threat to humans, fish, marine mammals and even birds. Red tide can appear at any time, but most frequently hits the Texas coast in September and October.

Linton and Webster have developed a way to compact the huge mounds of seaweed into bales like hay, and it can be used as feed for livestock.

“We will continue to fine tune the app as we go along, but we are excited about its future,” Linton adds.

“To our knowledge, this is the best system ever developed and it will get even better in the years to come.”

Media contact: Bob Wright at (409) 740-4840 or cell at (713) 586-9870 or wrightb@tamug.edu, or Tom Linton at (409) 939-3800 or Keith Randall (979) 845-4644 or keith-randall@tamu.edu