Sargasso Sea Protection
Protecting a haven of biodiversity in the high seas…
Grant Recipient: Sargasso Sea Alliance
Project Support: MPA Establishment and Protection of the Sargasso Sea
Term: 2010 - 2012
Launched in 2010, The Sargasso Sea Alliance is a partnership led by the Bermuda Government, in collaboration with scientists, international marine conservation groups and private donors, who all share a vision of protecting the unique and vulnerable ocean ecosystem that is the Sargasso Sea. The Alliance is funded entirely by private sector donors, including Ricardo Cisneros, Erik H. Gordon, the JM Kaplan Fund, Richard Rockefeller, David Shaw and the Waitt Foundation.
To build an international partnership that will secure recognition of the ecological significance of the Sargasso Sea and the threats that it faces.
To use existing regional, sectoral and international organizations to secure a range of protective measures for all or parts of the Sargasso Sea to address key threats.
To establish a management regime for the Sargasso Sea.
To use the process as an example of what can and cannot be delivered through existing institutions in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
About the Sargasso Sea
The Sargasso Sea is the earth’s only sea without a land boundary. Without a coastline to help define its boundaries, other biological characteristics and oceanic conditions have been used over time to help define the sea’s location and extent. This extraordinary open-ocean ecosystem is bounded by currents circulating around the North Atlantic sub-tropical gyre and is unique for supporting the center of distribution and abundance for a community of continuously pelagic drift algae, the Sargasso Sea provides habitats, spawning areas, migration pathways and feeding grounds to a diverse assortment of flora and fauna, including endemic, endangered, and commercially important species.
Why Protect the Sargasso Sea?
The Sargasso Sea is a haven of biodiversity and there is growing recognition of the crucial role it plays in the wider North Atlantic ecosystem as habitat, foraging and spawning grounds, and as a migratory corridor. The Sargasso Sea supports a range of endemic species and plays a critical role in supporting the life cycle of a number of threatened and endangered species such as the Porbeagle shark, the American and the European eel, as well as billfish, tuna and several species of turtle, migratory birds and cetaceans. There is emerging recognition of the crucial role it plays in the wider ecosystem ranging from the Atlantic to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Just as the Sargasso Sea supports a number of species, it is also faced with several stressors that threaten the long-term viability and health of the ecosystem.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are not a new idea and there is growing evidence that they serve a vital role in allowing fish and corals to recover from exploitation – even providing benefits for unprotected waters outside their borders. However, the majority of existing MPAs have all been set up within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of individual countries (200 nautical miles), or on their Continental Shelves – which can extend beyond 200 nm. There is, as yet, no global legal framework for the establishment of MPAs within the nearly 50% of the planet that lies outside these zones. These “Areas beyond National Jurisdiction” (ABNJ), are the least protected in the world.
Regional agreements for conservation including the establishment of high seas MPAs already exist in some areas, such as the Northeast Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Southern Ocean, but not in the areas covered by the Sargasso Sea.
Under international law, the high seas areas beyond 200 nautical miles from the coast are open to all. The 1982 UN Law of the Sea Convention envisages six basic high seas freedoms for all states: navigation; overflight; freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines; to construct artificial islands and other installations; freedom of fishing and of scientific research. Although the Convention does impose important duties (notably environmental protection) on those that exercise these freedoms, it is other sectoral treaty regimes that regulate a range of specific issues such as fishing, wildlife protection, shipping, and seabed mining.
Where is the Sargasso Sea?
The Sargasso Sea is a region in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by ocean currents. It is bounded on the west by the Gulf Stream; on the north, by the North Atlantic Current; on the east, by the Canary Current; and on the south, by the North Atlantic Equatorial Current. This system of currents forms the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre. All the currents deposit the marine plants and garbage they carry into this sea.
The Sargasso Sea is 700 statute miles wide and 2,000 statute miles long. The ocean water in the Sargasso Sea is distinctive for its deep blue color and exceptional clarity, with underwater visibility of up to 200 feet.