Over 150 invertebrate species live on, or in association with, the Sargassum. *Photo by Chris Burville
Over 150 invertebrate species live on, or in association with, the Sargassum. *Photo by Chris Burville

An international alliance involving the governments of 11countries and territories has met to support an initiative, led by the Government of Bermuda, to collaborate to conserve the Sargasso Sea ecosystem.

The governments of Bermuda, the Azores, Monaco, United Kingdom and the United States signed the “Hamilton Declaration on Collaboration for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea” — a non-binding political statement that indicates signatories’ interest in collaborating on the conservation efforts.

Representatives of the governments of Sweden, Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, and South Africa also attended to voice their support of the initiative, as did representatives from the Secretariats of five international organizations — the Oslo and Paris Commission (OSPAR) from the neighboring North-East Atlantic region, the International Seabed Authority, the Inter-American Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Sea Turtles, the Convention on Migratory Species and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

 Bermuda’s Premier the Hon. Craig Cannonier JP MP said at the Conference today:  

“As you may know, Bermuda is the only landmass in the middle of the Sargasso Sea. We see it as our responsibility to lead the stewardship of this unique marine ecosystem and to request the support and assistance of the international community in this task. 

“Additionally, I want to publicly state that the signing of this historic document will allow the stewardship of the Bermuda Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to remain solely under the control and management authority of the Government of Bermuda. We are committed to a high level of sustainable management of the resources of the EEZ and we have an impressive history to prove it.”

The Sargasso Sea is a vast region the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean named for the free-floating seaweed that provides shelter for countless oceanic species. Over 150 invertebrate species live on, or in association with, the Sargassum.

The Sargasso Sea Alliance was founded in 2010, led by the Government of Bermuda, aims to seek protection measures for this high seas, open ocean ecosystem through the bodies which already have regulatory authority for areas beyond national jurisdiction — such as the International Seabed Authority, International Maritime Organization, the regional fisheries bodies and the Convention on Migratory Species. 

The Signatories will set up a regular ‘Meeting of Signatories’ to establish a Sargasso Sea Commission to exercise a stewardship role for the Sargasso Sea and keep its health, productivity and resilience under review.

 The Commission will be made up of scientists and others of international repute committed to the conservation of high seas ecosystems.

The Government of Bermuda, in consultation with the Signatories and Collaborating Partners, will select qualified individuals to serve on the Commission.

The Hamilton Declaration defines the Sargasso Sea ecosystem to include international waters or areas beyond national jurisdiction, but the Bermuda Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) will remain under the sovereignty and management authority of the Government of Bermuda. 

Bermuda’s Minister of Environment and Health Trevor Moniz said:  “As the lead government of the Sargasso Sea Alliance since 2010, Bermuda is proud to be part of this collaboration of individuals and countries who all share a vision of protecting the unique and vulnerable ocean ecosystem of the Sargasso Sea.

“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.

“The opportunity to recognize the importance of the Sargasso Sea and to develop and implement procedures to protect this iconic region and the wider High Seas should be taken before it is too late. The initiative we are embarking upon today may be capable of replication in other high seas areas, and Bermuda is proud to be in a leadership role to that end.”

Dr David Freestone, Executive Director of the Sargasso Sea Alliance described the collaboration as “a truly historic occasion.”

“This is the first time an international alliance has been formed to develop protection measures for an iconic high seas ecosystem, using existing international law frameworks.” 

 The meeting was financed by the Sargasso Sea Alliance.

A Tribute to the Sargasso Sea from David Shaw on Vimeo.