Sargasso Sea Facts - Convention on Biological Diversity

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Sargasso Sea Facts - Convention on Biological Diversity

SARGASSO SEA ALLIANCESARGASSO SEA ALLIANCEProtectingthesargasso ong>Seaong>A golden floating rainforest – a place of myth and legends – the crossroads of the AtlanticNamed after its characteristic rafts of floating golden Sargassum algae,the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> is an enormous pool of slowly rotating water bounded byocean currents within the subtropical North Atlantic Ocean. It acts as the ecologicalcross-roads in the Atlantic. It is an incredibly important part of the open ocean,but it still remains best known to many as a place of myth and legends, from theBermuda Triangle where ships and planes are said to mysteriously disappear, to anotorious area of ocean becalming the unwary sailor.Yet the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> has another important side to it — as a hot spot for marinewildlife, ranking alongside the best sites we protect on land. It contains a widerange of habitats and provides a resting, feeding and breeding area for manyspecies including those that are uniquely associated with the floating rafts ofthe golden algae Sargassum. Many commercially important fish species use thearea to breed and feed. Some are permanently resident, whilst many others passthrough the area or migrate to the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> from Europe and the Americas tobreed, including eels and iconic ocean species, such as whales, turtles and marlin.The ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> lies beyond the reach of effective frameworks for its protectionand management. Most of it lies beyond the jurisdiction and responsibility ofsurrounding countries, and it is threatened by diverse human activities includingover-fishing, pollution, ship traffic, and even harvesting of Sargassum itself.It deserves to be recognised and provided with at least the same level ofprotection that large familiar land conservation areas already have, such as theSerengeti or Yellowstone.This leaflet provides an introduction to the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong>, and to a ground-breakingnew initiative — The ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> Alliance — to ensure that this area is given theprotection and management it so richly deserves. What we learn from this workwill help better protect other key wildlife sites elsewhere in the open ocean andhelp introduce proper mechanisms to make this a reality. The time is now to makea difference and to make this happen.JP Rouja


The ocean occupies 71% of the surface of the Earth — an amazing expanse of some 360 million square kilometers.We tend to think of it as uniformly blue with little distinguishing features. Yet just like the land, it has many specialplaces. The ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> is by far and away one of these fundamentally important parts of the world’s ocean.BERMUDAThe coast of Bermuda.K Killerlain MorrisonSargassum weed in the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong>.JP RoujaThe ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong>, with an area of over 4 million square kilometres, is located within the North Atlantic sub-tropicalgyre with its boundaries defined by the surrounding currents. It is the only sea in the world without land boundaries,with water depths ranging from the surface coral reefs of Bermuda to abyssal plains at 4500m.


The ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong>’s importance derives from the interdependent mix of itsphysical structure and properties, its ecosystems, its role in global scale oceanand earth system processes, its socio-economic and cultural values, and itsrole in global scientific research. Despite this, the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> is threatenedby a range of human activities that either adversely impact it directly or havethe potential to do so. Being open ocean the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> is primarily Highong>Seaong>s, the area of ocean that covers about 50% of the earth’s surface but whichis beyond the jurisdiction and responsibility of any national government,and as such it enjoys little protection.Bermuda has decided to improve thestewardship of its surrounding seas,both within its Exclusive EconomicZone and into the wider High ong>Seaong>s.With leading conservation and marinescience organisations Bermuda began toinvestigate opportunities within currentmechanisms for High ong>Seaong>s governancewith the aim of affording protection for theong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong>. This resulted in the formationof the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> Alliance, a consortiumled by the Government of Bermuda ofleading conservation and marine scienceorganisations and individuals.Sailfish are among the many speciesthat inhabit the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong>.A PollockOne of the first acts of the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> Alliance has been to collate scientific and other supportingevidence for the importance of the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong>. This has been drawn together into a scientific case whichwill be used to develop international recognition for the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong>; to start the process of establishingappropriate management and precautionary regimes within existing international ocean agreements; andto stimulate a wider debate on appropriate management and protection for the High ong>Seaong>s.


ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> ong>Factsong>The open ocean is poorly protected. 71% of thesurface of the earth is covered by sea. 50% of the surface ofthe earth is covered by open ocean, the so-called High ong>Seaong>sthat lie beyond the jurisdiction of bordering states. Unliketerrestrial environments, the High ong>Seaong>s have no overarchingframework for protection and management. Protecting theong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> will show how this can be achieved.The ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> lies within the subtropicalNorth Atlantic Ocean, bounded by ocean currentscirculating clockwise around a central gyre of deepwater. Apart from the waters surrounding Bermudait is High ong>Seaong>s. The current boundaries are variable,especially in the eastern Atlantic, hence the ong>Sargassoong>ong>Seaong> Alliance is focussing on the area within the westernAtlantic basin – the heart of this important ocean gyre.P Austerong>Seaong>mounts and ridgescriss-cross the seafloor, these arehome to deep water corals whichin turn have their own endemiccommunities of invertebrates andwhich act as spawning areas fordeep water fish.A nursery and feeding areais created by the mats of Sargassum and itsassociated communities. Over 100 speciesof fish spawn in the area, flying fish laybubble nests in the mats and their eggshave long filaments to entangle the weed.Juvenile turtles spend their lost yearshiding and feeding amongst Sargassum,birds feed and rest on the mats, and manyspecies of commercially important fishincluding tuna, marlin, wahoo and dolphinfish feed beneath the mats.Masa Ushioda/imagequestmarine.comJP RoujaThe golden floating rain forestis a hot spot for wildlife based upon two speciesof floating Sargassum the world’s only whollyfloating and free-living large algae. Over 150invertebrate species live on or in association withthe Sargassum. Ten animal species are endemicfoundonly within the mats of Sargassum.These include fish, molluscs and crustaceans,camouflaged to match their surroundings and, inthe case of the Sargassum Fish, having modifiedfins to allow it to creep through the weed.


T PuchnerIt is an important resourceboth locally and globally, worth manymillions of dollars a year because of itsfisheries, the direct and indirect benefitsof the coral reefs surrounding Bermuda,and tourism. Despite this the revenuesderived from the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> are muchlower than they might be because of theabsence of appropriate management.A cross road in the Atlantic Ocean,it is an area that many species including whales,turtles, and tuna migrate through, whilst in deepwater below the Sargassum the endangered Europeanand American eels migrate here from the coasts ofEurope, Canada and the USA to spawn. The ong>Sargassoong>ong>Seaong> is their only known spawning area. Other deepmigrants include Porbeagle Sharks—which migratefrom the temperate eastern Atlantic to give birthto their young here, and Swordfish migrate intothe area where they live by day at depths of several100 m and swim up to the surface at night to feed.A MurchOf vital importance toglobal scale processesof oxygen production and carbonsequestration due to a combinationof abundant tiny photosyntheticbacteria, deep sunlit waters andphysical mixing processes. Theong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> is conventionallyregarded as being oligotrophic; butthe annual net primary productionis three times higher than in theBarents ong>Seaong>.T WardmanA critical area for oceanresearch and monitoring,the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> has been a focus forocean science since the voyage of HMSChallenger in the 1870s. It is the siteof Beebe’s first bathyscape dives, thesea where variability in deep oceancurrents was found, where the mostabundant photosynthetic organism onearth was discovered, and it is the siteof the world’s longest ocean time seriesof measurements which together giveus so much vital information aboutglobal climate change.A place of legend so a culturally importantpart of the ocean. First described by Columbus whofeared his ships would be trapped by mats of floatinggolden algae, named Sargassum possibly because itsair bladders reminded Portuguese sailors of bunchesof grapes. Sailors feared being becalmed in the calmseas—the doldrums, and later the Bermuda triangleachieved notoriety because ships and aeroplanes weresupposedly lost here. Bermuda itself has a rich maritimehistory and its settlement after the wreck of the ong>Seaong>Venture (on its way to Virginia) in 1609 was reputedlythe inspiration for Shakespeare’s The Tempest.It is threatened by humanactivities including over-fishingand collateral damage from fishingincluding entanglement in gearand unwanted by-catch; by shiptraffic creating noise in the waterand risks of collision; by pollutionfrom both land and ships; byharvesting of Sargassum; and byfuture deep-sea mining.


Apart from over-fishing and plastic pollution many of thethreats are not obvious, as it is difficult to collect evidenceof direct causal relationships between specific activitiesand adverse impacts in such a wide expanse of ocean. Butthere is clear and growing evidence that the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong>is being adversely impacted by human activities and withthe possibility of new uses for Sargassum in the future,the lack of direct scientific evidence should not precludeinternational cooperation and action based on the wellestablishedprecautionary principle.JP Rouja


A StevensonLed by the Government of Bermuda, the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> Alliancewas formed to draw attention to the international importance of theong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> and the threats upon it and is seeking to establish appropriateprotective measures through the various sectoral organisationswith interests in the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> such as International Commission forthe Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), (for fisheries), InternationalMaritime Organisation (IMO) (for shipping), International ong>Seaong>bedAuthority (ISA) (for seabed exploitation issues). Creating a network ofprotection will help mitigate the lack of overall protective measuresdue to High ong>Seaong>s status, leading to the creation of an open oceanMarine Protected Area.The opportunity to recognise the importance of the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> andto develop and implement procedures to protect this iconic region andthe wider High ong>Seaong>s should be taken before it is too late.We need your support!


About the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> AllianceThe ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> Alliance is led by the Bermuda Government and aims tomobilise support from a wide variety of national and international organisations,governments and donors for protection measures for the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong>.ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> Alliance partners:International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)and its World Commission on Protected AreasMission Blue / Sylvia Earle AllianceMarine Conservation InstituteWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionAtlantic Conservation PartnershipBermuda Institute for Ocean Sciences (BIOS)Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI)WWF InternationalThe Secretariat of the ong>Sargassoong> ong>Seaong> Alliance is hosted by the Washington D.C. Officeof the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Suite 300,1630 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington D.C., 20009, USA.To view the full Science Case, please visit our website at:www.sargassoalliance.org/case-for-protectionISBN: 978-0-9847520-2-7Keeping in touch:Visit our website www.sargassoalliance.orgFollow us on Twitter @Sargong>Seaong>AllianceFor further details contactDr David Freestone (Executive Director) at dfreestone@sargassoalliance.orgor Kate Killerlain Morrison, (Programme Officer) at kmorrison@sargassoalliance.org

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