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September 26, 2017

The Protection and Management of the Sargasso Sea




The Sargasso Sea is a fundamentally important part of the world's ocean,located within the North Atlantic sub-tropical gyre with its boundaries defined by thesurrounding currents. It is the only sea without land boundaries with water depths ranging fromthe surface coral reefs of Bermuda to abyssal plains at 4500 m. The Sargasso Sea's importancederives from the interdependent mix of its physical structure and properties, its ecosystems, itsrole in global scale ocean and earth system processes, its socio-economic and cultural values,and its role in global scientific research. Despite this, the Sargasso Sea is threatened by a rangeof human activities that either directly adversely impact it or have the potential to do so. Beingopen ocean, the Sargasso Sea is part of the High Seas, the area of ocean that covers nearly 50%of the earth's surface but which is beyond the jurisdiction and responsibility of any nationalgovernment, and as such it enjoys little protection. To promote the importance of the SargassoSea, the Sargasso Sea Alliance was created under the leadership of the Government of Bermudain 2010. This report provides a summary of the scientific and other supporting evidence forthe importance of the Sargasso Sea and is intended to develop international recognition ofthis; to start the process of establishing appropriate management and precautionary regimeswithin existing agreements; and to stimulate a wider debate on appropriate management andprotection for the High Seas.Nine reasons why the Sargasso Sea is important are described and discussed. It is a place oflegend with a rich history of great importance to Bermuda; it has an iconic ecosystem based uponfloating Sargassum, the world's only holopelagic seaweed, hosting a rich and diverse communityincluding ten endemic species; it provides essential habitat for nurturing a wide diversity ofspecies many of which are endangered or threatened; it is the only breeding location for thethreatened European and American eels; it lies within a large ocean gyre which concentratespollutants and which has a variety of oceanographic processes that impact its productivity andspecies diversity; it plays a disproportionately large role in global ocean processes of carbonsequestration; it is of major importance for global scientific research and monitoring and ishome to the world's longest ocean time series of measurements; it has significant values to localand world-wide economies; and it is threatened by activities including over-fishing, pollution,shipping, and Sargassum harvesting.Apart from over-fishing many of the threats are potential, with few direct causal relationshipsbetween specific activities and adverse impacts. But there is accumulative evidence that theSargasso Sea is being adversely impacted by human activities, and with the possibility of new usesfor Sargassum in the future, the lack of direct scientific evidence does not preclude internationalaction through the established precautionary approach. The opportunity to recognise theimportance of the Sargasso Sea and to develop and implement procedures to protect this iconicregion and the wider High Seas should be taken before it is too late.