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Premier signs Sargasso Sea conservation document as last-minute change protects EEZ

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Premier Craig Cannonier signed the Hamilton Declaration yesterday at the Tucker's Point resort, which included Bermuda in a collaboration of nations who have joined forces to conserve the environment of the Sargasso Sea ecosystem.

A last-minute change was made to exclude the Island's Exclusive Economic Zone, about 175,000 square miles of ocean, from the area which would fall under a Commission charged with stewarding the area, because stakeholders had shown there was a ambiguity in the document.

The Sargasso Sea is a gyre in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, named for a free floating seaweed called Sargassum and is home to many endemic species and provide a protective nursery for juvenile fish and turtles. Bermuda sits roughly in the middle of this gyre.

Mr Cannonier said: “As you may know, Bermuda is the only land mass 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.”

Commenting on the last minute change to exclude the Island's EEZ from the area covered by the document,

Mr Cannonier said: “We (Bermuda) would be wide open to interference — it left a loophole.”

A previous draft of the Hamilton declaration showed Bermuda's EEZ as included, while all other nations' EEZs were specifically excluded.

The Premier said he had consulted with Bermuda stakeholders that included individuals who wished to preserve the EEZ, and others who wished to explore it. “We should have the right to explore our waters and what lies beneath those waters,” he said.

Referring to the potential of resources in Bermuda's EEZ and reaping them, he said: “If we can find a way to do it sustainably then it will go a long way to diversifying our economy.”

He added: “I also credit the Progressive Labour Party who initiative got us to this point.

Mr Cannonier was one of five countries' senior representatives to sign the accord. Other governments included the Azores, Monaco, the UK as well as the US, who sent their Ambassador for Oceans and Fisheries David Balton.

Other nations represented were Sweden, Turks & Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands, the Netherlands, The Bahamas and South Africa. Representatives from the Secretariats of five international organisations: The Oslo and Paris Commission, the International Seabed Authority, the inter-American Convenion for the Conservation of Atlantic Sea Turtles, the Convention on Migratory Species and International Union for the Conservation of Nature also attended.

Representatives of 11 countries and territories from around the Sargasso Sea and Europe reaffirmed their support for the initiative, led by the Government of Bermuda, to collaborate for the conservation of the Sargasso Sea ecosystem.

A press release stated: “The Sargasso Sea Alliance (SSA), which was founded in 2010 and led by the Government of Bermuda, aims to seek protection measures for this unique 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 Organisation, the regional fisheries bodies and the Convention on Migratory Species.”

It went on to say other governments may join the initiative, adding: “The Commission will be composed of distinguished scientists and other persons 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. Commissioners will be unpaid and will serve in a largely virtual setting.”

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.”

Dr David Freestone, who is the executive director of the SSA, said: “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.”

Other people in attendance included well known diver and explorer Teddy Tucker, who said that the signing of the Declaration was good, and said that he thought that whatever came out of it would be good.

Mr Conn Nugent, of Nugent Philanthropies, was the executive director of the first institutional organisation, the JM Kaplan Fund, to provide funds to Sargasso Sea Alliance. He said: “I heard about this crazy idea for the preservation of the Sargasso Sea,” and he explained he saw to it that they received funding towards the cause.

Philippe Rouja, principal scientist at the Department of Conservation Services, said the process had already borne fruit, with films as one example of projects that are a result of the collaboration that has occurred to date.

Premier Craig Cannonier signs the Hamilton Declaration on Collaboration for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea alongside Dr David Freestone executive director of the Sargasso Sea Alliance and Derrick Binns, Cabinet Secretary.

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Published March 12, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 12, 2014 at 9:42 am)

Premier signs Sargasso Sea conservation document as last-minute change protects EEZ

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