TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Researchers from Florida Atlantic University fear a “pathogen storm” could come amid the rising levels of seaweed known as sargassum found washing up on South Florida beaches.

In newly-released research, scientists expressed concern that the increased presence of plastics in waters could provide a breeding ground for vibrio, a common bacteria found in oceans and other waterways.

Much about sargassum’s surge is unknown still: like why it continues to grow into larger collections in recent years.

“It impacts tourism, it impacts some of the health of some people living by the beaches. So people want to know why? Can we control it, or can we use it?” said Dr. Frank Muller-Kager, an oceanographer at USF.

This kind of seaweed is nothing new, but its presence in waters around South Florida in such large amounts is.

“It’s complicated. And the scale is so big that it’s hard to think that we can even control it,” he added.

Researchers continue to study how the seaweed interacts with other substances but say the increased presence of plastics presents new challenges.

“What they discovered is Vibrio pathogens have the unique ability to “stick” to microplastics and that these microbes might just be adapting to plastic,” the research report states.

Muller-Kager hopes it will encourage Floridians to think more carefully about how they interact with their environment.

“I think the most important thing for people is to look out, open your eyes, and understand what you’re seeing around you in terms of nature and how we fit into it. We depend on it, if we take care of it, we can make it better for ourselves,” he added.