Greenrock says: Protecting the sea that surrounds our Island – The Royal Gazette | Bermuda News, Business, Sports, Events, & Community

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Greenrock says: Protecting the sea that surrounds our Island

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Greenrock is working with other environmental groups as part of the Bermuda Alliance for the Sargasso Sea (BASS) with the goal of establishing part of the Sargasso Sea as the world's first international marine reserve.

Here, Greenrock management committee member Felix Tod explains what the Sargasso Sea is, why it's important and what part we can all play in protecting it.

What is the Sargasso Sea?

Bermuda and its surrounding waters lie within the Sargasso Sea, an enormous mass of water that is driven in a clockwise direction by strong ocean currents.

Floating on its surface are large mats of unique seaweed known as Sargassum, which support a unique variety of marine life. Many of Bermuda's 4500 marine species are found within the Sargasso.

Scientists have even documented that eel species from European and North American rivers migrate here to spawn.

Recent research has found that the Sargasso Sea serves as a critical birthing ground for some shark species, as well as a nursery for our turtles. Some of the marine species relying on the unique Sargasso Sea habitat have evolved specific shapes and colour patterns that camouflage them among the Sargassum.

Given this highly productive ecosystem within the Sargasso Sea, scientists, the Bermuda Government, local residents and others are concerned about protecting this area from emerging threats, such as proposals to harvest Sargassum for biofuel and threats from Asian fishing vessels, which are reputed to be fishing in areas within Bermuda waters but too far offshore for us to police using present capabilities.

Why should we protect it?

Local fishermen have reportedly caught Wahoo with Asian-style hooks in their mouths, while a distinctive style of fishing net not used by local fishermen has washed up on Bermuda's shores, indicating that illegal fishing is taking place in the Sargasso.

Protecting the Sargasso Sea would not only be a win for Bermuda environmentally but a win for the country and our tourism product.

Imagine being able to market an “island in the middle of one of the world's biggest marine parks”. Just as Australia has the Great Barrier Reef, we would have the Sargasso for Bermuda the “Golden Rainforest” of the Ocean with our Island surrounded by a protected “Halo” of unique marine life.

Bermuda could market itself distinctly from Caribbean destinations, enhancing our diving product and eco-tourism.

Declaring the Sargasso Sea a marine reserve would put Bermuda in international headlines as the “Jewel of the Atlantic” she truly is the kind of marketing and publicity that cannot be bought.

America promotes its wildlife parks from Yellowstone to Yosemite, which are featured regularly on BBC and National Geographic television programmes and in documentary films.

Again, this kind of promotion would truly help Bermuda's international image, tourist product and allow us to be seen as a world leader in global ocean conservation. This is something we can all be proud of, as well as be a fresh start and a rebrand for Bermuda internationally.

What next?

The size of the Sargasso Sea varies with ocean currents and temperature but is generally estimated at 2 million square kilometers not all of this can be protected but the Bermuda Government, the international Sargasso Sea Alliance and BASS is committed to having protection in place for part of it. Also under consideration is a unique Bermudian contribution of setting aside part of our national waters our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as a marine reserve.

We currently use less than 10 percent of our EEZ for commercial fishing and recreation and, therefore, could establish a significant reserve without adversely affecting Bermuda's fisherman, businesses, tourists or residents.

Historically, those who fish beside ocean reserves enjoy higher catches so the only fisherman affected would be those fishing in our waters illegally some 100-200 miles away.

If we make this commitment to protecting our marine treasures, this would be a reason to be proud, to stand tall and to take the lead in the international community.

The Bermuda Government has committed to both preservation projects. The next stage will see Greenrock and other environmental groups looking for the people of Bermuda's support so we can send a clear message that we want a national marine reserve hopefully by the end of the year and that we support the larger marine protected area in the Sargasso Sea.

We need to talk about the issues raised so we can make sure the public and all other stakeholders are in agreement about creating this reserve.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Bermudians to protect our surroundings for our children.

Photo by Mark Tatem Bermuda is located in the northwest quadrant of the Sargasso Sea. The seaweed, which is often seen in large quantities around the Island at this time of year, provides an important habitat for many marine animals.

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Published February 02, 2012 at 10:00 am (Updated February 02, 2012 at 10:41 am)

Greenrock says: Protecting the sea that surrounds our Island

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