Saturday, 19 February 2011

Introducing the Sargasso Sea Alliance

Sylvia Earle has called the Sargasso Sea “the golden rainforest of the ocean.” It is a unique pelagic ecosystem based on species of Sargassum that are able to develop without contact with land. The Sargasso Sea is bounded by ocean currents circulating around the North Atlantic sub-tropical gyre. Although it includes the Bermudan Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ), the vast majority occurs in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). 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. 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.
The Sargasso Sea Alliance is a ground breaking initiative and will provide significant insights for the development of high seas protected areas in the Atlantic and elsewhere. There is, as yet, no general international mechanism for the establishment of MPAs on the high seas – or Pelagic Protected Areas (PPAs). Consequently the Alliance aims to gain international recognition of the importance of the Sargasso Sea ecosystem and widespread understanding of its value within the greater temperate/sub-tropical North Atlantic ecosystem. The Alliance also proposes to approach relevant sectoral organisations with relevant competences and encourage them to adopt new protection measures in accordance with the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. These might include the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), in relation to ship discharges and the designation of a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area, as well as fisheries bodies such the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) and the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) (which already has agreed to monitoring and reporting requirements for Sargassum impacts).

The Sargasso Sea Alliance

The Alliance is led by the Bermuda Government, which has declared itself to be the ‘champion’ of this cause and has already demonstrated a strong leadership role. The Alliance aims to mobilise support from a wide variety of national and international organisations, governments and donors for the institution of protection measures for this unique ABNJ ecosystem. Key partners to date include Mission Blue, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions, SEAlliance, Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI), World Wide Fund (WWF) and the Pew Environment Group. The Alliance has an Executive Director, Dr David Freestone, who with a small staff will be based within the IUCN Office in Washington DC and in Bermuda. The Alliance is funded entirely by private sector donors, including the JM Kaplan Fund, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Waitt Foundation. $500,000 has already been pledged for the early initial stages of this effort; with a further $1-2 million available for implementation. Ultimately, an endowment fund of some $5-10 million is envisaged to maintain monitoring and reporting.