Beaching and Natural Removal Dynamics of Pelagic Sargassum in a Fringing-Reef Lagoon

Jantien Rutten*, Jaime Arriaga, Leonardo D. Montoya, Ismael J. Mariño-Tapia, Edgar Escalante-Mancera, E. Tonatiuh Mendoza, Brigitta I. van Tussenbroek, Christian M. Appendini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
31 Downloads (Pure)


Massive quantities of the pelagic brown macroalgae Sargassum spp. (sargassum) have been invading the Caribbean and West African shores since 2011, causing devastating effects on the coastal ecosystem and local economy. Little is known about sargassum beaching dynamics and the capacity of the coastal system to naturally remove beached sargassum. Here, we characterize the temporal variation in arriving and beached sargassum in a reef lagoon using a 5.2-year data set of hourly optical imagery, and identify the governing hydrometeorological conditions. Image classification reveals interannual variability in the start, duration, and intensity of the sargassum arrival season. Arrivals are associated with relatively low energy onshore directed winds and waves, and offshore abundance of sargassum. Furthermore, nearshore sargassum mat size is found to decrease with decreasing wave/wind energy. Once sargassum beaches, a berm of wrack is formed. Natural wrack removal was observed under elevated water levels and increased wave action. Three types of wrack removal were distinguished, depending on the water level (Formula presented.) with respect to the berm crest height (Formula presented.) and berm crest toe (Formula presented.) : gradual berm destruction with gaps developing in the seaward berm edge that grow larger with time (Type I; (Formula presented.)) and abrupt berm destruction with part of the wrack depositing on the upper beach (Type II; (Formula presented.)) or in the dunes (Type III; (Formula presented.)). Higher energy waves activate the reef circulation, which is suspected to flush part of the wrack out of the reef lagoon. We propose a conceptual model of nearshore sargassum dynamics in a reef lagoon system.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021JC017636
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • conceptual modeling
  • image analysis
  • reef lagoon
  • Sargassum spp.
  • swash
  • wrack berm


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