Have you walked the beach recently and come across some harsh-looking brown grass?
This is sargassum.
Walton County's Volunteer Beach Ambassadors are reporting small clumps of sargassum up and down the beach, particularly in the areas of Miramar Beach, Stallworth Lake, from Blue Mountain to Grayton, Seagrove, and Deer Lake State Park.
"Visitors have asked me in the past what it is as I walked the beach," said Laurie Reichenbach, who heads the Beach Ambassador program.
Sometimes it can be found washed up on the beach and sometimes it is still in the water.
Sometimes it is small clumps and sometimes it's large piles.
If you have ever been at the beach when it is present in large doses you might have noticed that it can become an odoriferous problem as it begins to decompose.
While visitors often complain and ask locals, "Are they going to do anything about this?" The answer is "no."
This brown seaweed is important to the coast's ecological system and it is vital to sea turtle hatchlings.
As sea turtles emerge from their nest and head for the water, they begin a difficult 48-hour journey as they head for the sargassum in the Gulf Stream. If they make it that far, they find a habitat that provides the food and shelter they require to thrive.
The berries on the grass contain gas, mostly oxygen, and are what enhances its buoyancy, allowing it to float on the surface.
As a floating habitat, it provides food, refuge, and a breeding ground for fish, sea turtles, marine birds, crabs, and shrimp.
The grass is designated an essential fish habitat and is afforded special protection.
For more about sargassum, visit oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/sargassum.html.