Strong waves from Hurricane Laura likely pushed thousands of sea squirts onto Pass-a-Grille Beach on Wednesday, and those seafloor critters have begun to rot.
What You Need To Know
- Sea squirts live in colonies on the seafloor.
- Hurricane Laura pushed them onto the beach.
- St. Pete Beach doesn’t plan to remove them.
"We could smell it as soon as we walked on," beach visitor Ray Allain said. "Beautiful beach otherwise."
Tunicates, commonly called sea squirts, are a group of marine animals that spend most of their lives attached to shells and docks, according to Michelle Kerr with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
"Most of the tunicates found there are attached to old shells, and some have been there long enough they had communities of small mussels and other bivalves attached in the crevices," she said. "The shell was very typical of the near shore species."
The Pass-a-Grille sea squirts live on the seafloor within a few thousand feet of the beach, according to University of South Florida geology professor Ping Wang. Professor Wang believes strong wave action from Hurricane Laura stirred up the tunicates and washed them ashore.
The category 4 storm passed more than 300 miles away from the Pinellas County coastline, in the Gulf of Mexico, on its way to Texas and Louisiana. The trail of dead sea squirts stretched for more than a mile on Thursday.
"It's amazing to me that we could be that far off, and (have it still affect where we’re at now," beachgoer Chris Bennett said.
Visitors said there were so many sea squirts littering the beach that it was difficult to walk to the surf.
"The whole shoreline was covered in it," Johnathan Scheidler said. "You didn't want to walk over it. You were afraid you were going to cut your feet."
The sea critters have begun to bake in the sun and stink. Bennett saw the stench drive away some other visitors.
"I mean they no sooner than put up an umbrella or a tent, and they were gone immediately," he said. "They just didn't want to endure the smell."
St. Pete Beach Mayor Al Johnson said public works does not have the proper equipment to pick up the sea squirts, so city workers believe it's best to leave them alone and let nature take its course.
That means visitors can expect it to be very stinky on Pass-a-Grille beach this weekend.