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  • Amy Pilsbury


The University of Exeter Global Systems Institute and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), partners in the PhycoMExUK project, have had the privilege of becoming collaborating partners of the Sargasso Sea Commission.

The Sargasso Sea is an area of open ocean situated within the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, bound on all sides by other major ocean currents. It possesses the perfect conditions to host the world’s only holopelagic seaweed ecosystem, Sargassum, providing a haven for a wide diversity of iconic species including Sargassum fish, flying fish, sea turtles and over 30 cetacean species. The area possesses great biological importance and ecological value and is globally important for the functional role it plays in the worlds oceans. Find out more in The Protection and Management of the Sargasso Sea report.

‘The need for the protection of the Sargasso Sea is clear. The ecosystems found here are among the most important in the world’

Professor Mike Allen (University of Exeter, PML)

The Sargasso Sea Commission (SSC) was established in 2014 pursuant to the Hamilton Declaration on Collaboration for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea, now signed by 10 Governments. As the islands of Bermuda are the only land territory in the Sargasso Sea, the Government of Bermuda leads the collaborative conservation of the area. The commission, its signatory governments and its collaborating partners work with a range of regional and international organisations with relevant competences in marine conservation and the Sargasso Sea ecosystem.

‘Our ecosystems are under immense pressure from different global challenges and partnerships such as these are vital in working together to find sustainable solutions.’

Dr Andrew Richards (Global Systems Institute)

The first joint Commission meeting in 2014 lead to the endorsement of the current overarching goals: (1) Promote international recognition of the unique ecological and biological nature and global significance of the Sargasso Sea. (2) Encourage scientific research to expand existing knowledge of the Sargasso Sea ecosystem in order to further assess its health, productivity and resilience. (3) Develop proposals for submission to existing regional, sectoral and international organisations to promote the objectives of the Hamilton Declaration.

Find out more in this informative video:

The importance of Sargassum rafts in the open ocean cannot be over-stated, this, however, has become a different story since 2011, when changing winds and ocean currents have begun to move the seaweed towards more coastal habitats. Mass Sargassum influxes can suffocate coral reef systems and cause huge problems for sea turtles which nest on the Caribbean shoreline. As the blooms of Sargassum increase year on year, this issue becomes more evident and requires careful and consistent monitoring.

“Sargassum blooms on the Atlantic gyre have got much worse in recent years partly due to increasing intensive agriculture discharging fertiliser into the sea via rivers such as the Amazon,”

Professor Mike Allen (University of Exeter, PML)

The commission is working extensively to protect the unique biology found in the area, monitoring all aspects of its health and resilience. Future plans include monitoring growth rates at sea and using satellites and imaging to track floating rafts.

PhycoMExUK partners have recently joined the Commission and we are excited to be working alongside a fantastic group of collaborators contributing to conservation efforts in the Sargasso Sea.

Follow the work of the commission here.

And keep track of our work @PhycoMExUK

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