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Stinky Seaweed Washing Up Along Mass. Beaches 02:33
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Matted seaweed on White Horse Beach in Plymouth (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)
Matted seaweed on White Horse Beach in Plymouth (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

All along the Massachusetts coast this summer, communities have been dealing with an unwelcome beachgoer: a new invasive species of seaweed that is washing up in heaps on shore.

At White Horse Beach in Plymouth this weekend, droves of beachgoers pitched towels and lawn chairs to soak in the 90 degree sunshine. But Tony Carvalho and a bunch of his friends from Taunton had to look around before they found a good spot.

"As we were walking," Carvalho said, "it was like, ‘Wow, what a stench!’ "

The stench came from mats of seaweed that had washed up on shore. Light brown, like overcooked angel hair pasta.

"It smelt like a sewer. It was horrible, I don’t know," Carvalho said.

Thanks to a weather pattern bringing winds mainly out of the northeast, a new type of seaweed that’s been flourishing offshore has been piling up on beaches up and down the coast, forcing towns from Falmouth on the Cape to Manchester-by-the-Sea to try to figure out what to do.

Health concerns in Marshfield prompted Public Works Superintendent Tom Reynolds to remove the rotting vegetation from its shoreline.

Seaweed washing up on White Horse Beach in Plymouth (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)
Seaweed washing up on White Horse Beach in Plymouth (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

"The timing was terrible, because it was fiscal year end," Reynolds said.

His department hauled off 400 cubic yards to a town compost site. That’s almost 50 dump-truck loads.

"You know, under $10,000, but it’s $10,000 I don’t have," Reynolds said.

Marshfield and other shore towns got a break this past weekend from the lunar high tide, which pulled some of the stinky masses back into the ocean.

So on Sunday, some of the harder-hit beaches were bearable again.

"I don’t mind the seaweed, because it adds to the oceanic experience," said Tony Valenzuela, who, barefoot and bare-chested, was parked on a stretch of sand in Plymouth next to a boom box and a cooler of Bud Lights.

"The Pilgrims and the Indians didn’t mind it, so we can put up with it a few hundred years later," Valenzuela said. "People are just getting spoiled. If you don’t want to smell the beach, buy a pool or something, you know?"

Even so, towns that rely on beach-going visitors don’t want to take that chance. They’re hoping that the winds change and push the looming mats of seaweed far from shore.

This program aired on July 3, 2012.

Curt Nickisch Twitter Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.

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