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Minister Bean: Sargasso Sea Alliance Progress

Government of Bermuda
Thursday, April 26, 2012






APRIL 26, 2012

Good Afternoon Members of the Media,

I am extremely pleased to stand before you today to share further progress that has been made by the Sargasso Sea Alliance towards the protection of the Sargasso Sea.

The Sargasso Sea, as you know, is a fundamentally important part of the world’s ocean. It is the only sea without land boundaries – except for Bermuda which nestles in the center - and it hosts a rich and diverse community including ten endemic species.

The Sargasso Sea’s importance derives from the interdependent mix of its physical structure, its socio-economic and cultural values, and its role in global scientific research.

Despite this, the Sargasso Sea is threatened by a range of human activities that either already adversely impact it or have the potential to do so.

The Sargasso Sea Alliance was formed to help protect this significant area of ocean. Since the Alliance’s inception in 2010, the Government of Bermuda continues to be proud to lead this partnership of seven internationally acclaimed organizations.

In early 2011 The Alliance met with UK authorities to share the vision for protecting the Sargasso Sea and gain their support.

Subsequently, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) requested the Alliance provide them with aFull Science Case for their review before they would indicate their support to other inter- governmental agencies.

I am pleased to say that, not only has this report been completed, but it has now been presented to and commended by the FCO.

Scientists, lawyers, consultants, environmentalists, authors and academics flew in from all over the world to take part in a series of meetings and workshops throughout 2011 to discuss the initial characterization of the Sargasso Sea.

The group also had dynamic discussions on the various sectoral requirements of international entities from which we may seek higher protective measures.

Alliance members finalized the 71-page document called, "The Protection and Management of the Sargasso Sea: The Golden Floating Rainforest of the Atlantic Ocean” earlier this year.

This report provides a summary of scientific evidence for the importance of the Sargasso Sea and is intended to develop international recognition of this fact.

Additionally, this report aims to stimulate a wider debate on appropriate management and protection for the High Seas in general.

Nine reasons for the Sargasso Sea’s importance and need for its international protection are described and discussed in the document and are as follows:

1)   It has a rich history of great importance to Bermuda;

2)   it has an iconic ecosystem based upon floating Sargassum which hosts a rich and diverse community including ten endemic species;

3)   it provides an essential habitat for nurturing a wide diversity of species many of which are endangered or threatened;

4)   it is the only breeding location for the threatened European and American eels;

5)   it lies within a large ocean gyre which concentrates pollutants and which has a variety of oceanographic processes that impact its productivity and species diversity;

6)   it plays a disproportionately large role in global ocean processes of carbon sequestration;

7)   it is of major importance for global scientific research and monitoring;

8)   it has significant values to local and worldwide economies;

9)   and it is threatened by activities including over-fishing, pollution, shipping, and Sargassum harvesting.

The report suggests that the opportunity to recognise 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.

Led by our Permanent Secretary, Dr Derrick Binns, and including the Executive Officer of the Alliance, Dr. David Freestone, who is with us today, and Professor Howard Roe, the Alliance defended the report before the UK Authorities on March 27th 2012.

It was clear that all participants were extremely pleased with the quality of the report and with Bermuda’s efforts to lead this important initiative.

Consequently, the UK Government has agreed to support our wish to enter into protective agreements with countries outside of the Commonwealth or the United States of America.

They only ask that we submit to them a list of nations and intergovernmental bodies that we wish to engage, before they provide the Bermuda Government with a letter of approval. The Sargasso Sea Alliance will now compile that list for approval and onward transmission by the Bermuda Government.

The Sargasso Sea Alliance will shortly proceed with a proposed meeting in Bermuda for the coming winter which will bring together a number of countries and intergovernmental bodies that share our interest in the protection of the Sargasso Sea.

We very much hope that such a meeting would culminate in a “Hamilton Declaration on the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea”, which would set out agreed principles for the conservation of the Sea.

This declaration could pave the way for more concrete measures such as the establishment of a Sargasso Sea Commission, based in Bermuda. It could also lead to the development of a regional treaty regime, or the authorization of a large high seas Marine Protected Area.

The Sargasso Sea is part of the High Seas ... an area of ocean that covers nearly 50% of the earth’s surface but which is beyond the jurisdiction and responsibility of any national government and, as such, enjoys little protection.

In recent years there has been growing awareness of and concern for the need to resolve this lack of protection for the High Seas – a need which grows increasingly more urgent as the open oceans and deep seas become increasingly exploited.

But I am pleased to say that The Sargasso Sea Alliance Initiative is already having an impact.

It is informing the global ocean protection debate, and is bringing together existing knowledge of the Sargasso Sea so that its importance and value can be readily appreciated.

For example at a recent Workshop in Brazil, convened by the Convention on Biological Diversity, Dr Joanna Pitt, on behalf of Bermuda put forward a proposal for the international recognition of the Sargasso Sea as an Ecologically/Biologically Significant Area (EBSA) The scientists at the meeting all supported that recommendation.

Whether viewed environmentally, socially, economically or as a critical area for global marine research the Sargasso Sea is hugely more valuable as an intact and healthy ocean area than as one that is depleted and degraded.

Thank You.