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A sea without shores: The floating golden carpet of the North Atlantic

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Nine-hundred primary students from around the Island are ready and waiting to learn more about the Sargasso Sea

Over the next two weeks JP Skinner and his team at BIOS will be hosting interactive workshops and presentations for 60 to 70 students at a time. The students will watch a short film entitled: “Expeditions Sargasso” and then be given a passport where they then go on a scavenger hunt and explore the biology, chemistry and physics of the Sargasso Sea.

The currents that make up its borders largely define the Sargasso Sea. The North Atlantic Drift to the north, Gulf Stream to the west, Northern Equatorial Current and Antilles current to the south with the Canary current to the east. The sea itself is estimated to be between 20 N and 35 N latitude and 30W and 70W Longitude.

The currents that border the sea make it a slow rotating body of water known as gyre. Bermuda lies on the western fringe of the Sargasso Sea within the North Atlantic Subtropical gyre. Since ocean currents create the boundaries of the sea, it is the only sea in the world without shores. It is named after the dense mats of brown algae of the genus Sargassum that can be found in the region. Sargassum seaweed spends most of its life adrift.

The dominant species S. natans and fluitans reproduce by fragmentation in the water column. These dense mats of algae interlock creating unique floating islands that have been dubbed, “The Golden Rainforest”.

Shrimps, crabs, sea slugs, and Sargassum fish can all be found within Sargassum seaweed. Some fish, such as the flying fish, use the seaweed as a raft for their eggs. At least 10 species of invertebrates and 125 species of fish can only be found in and around the Sargassum that drifts throughout the Sargasso Sea.

In one of the lessons, students will learn how the different predators and prey interact within the Sargassum and are connected based on their eating habits. A typical simple food chain begins with primary producers (plants) being eaten by primary consumers (zooplankton) followed by secondary consumers (small fish). A food web is a grouping of food chains together with significant overlap of food sources.

Many of the “passengers” of the Sargassum have unique camouflage to live within the weed. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) has designated the seaweed itself as essential fish habitat for many billfish, tuna and sharks. In this lesson, students will be able to look at some of the major categories of resident “passengers” in the seaweed.

Key words / vocabulary box

Gyre Major rotational surface current systems in the ocean (five major gyres)

Coriolis Effect The “force” (not a true force) on moving particles resulting from the earth's rotation eastward. It causes moving bodies to be deflected to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere. This deflection is more apparent at the poles and not seen at the equator.

Current the motion of water as it flows down a slope, pushed by wind stress or tidal forces.

Equator an imaginary line of latitude (0 degrees) on the earth surface that divides the earth into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The line is located equidistant from both North and South poles

Prime Meridian an imaginary line of longitude (0 degrees) that divides the sphere of the earth into an Eastern and Western Hemisphere.

Physical Oceanography the study of the physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean, including the way the ocean moves and the properties of the ocean waters in of themselves.

Latitude Angular distance north to south of the equator measured at 0 degrees to 90 degrees at the poles

Longitude Angular distance measured from the prime meridian (0 degrees) at Greenwich, England, east or west through 180 degrees.

JP Skinner and his team at BIOS are teaching youngsters about the Sargasso Sea
JP Skinner and his team at BIOS are teaching youngsters about the Sargasso sea
Floating Sargassum seaweed
A sea without shores: Since currents are part of a dynamic system the boundaries of the Sargasso Sea are always changing.

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Published January 17, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 16, 2013 at 4:52 pm)

A sea without shores: The floating golden carpet of the North Atlantic

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