Hamilton Declaration Signing 11 March 2014, Premier Craig Cannonier signs the Hamilton Declaration alongside Dr David Freestone (left) of the Sargasso Sea Alliance and Cabinet Secretary Derrick Binns .

Bermuda is a beautiful, tame island, known for its pink beaches, golf-courses and of course, our Bermuda shorts. But if you put your head under the water it is a different world. Crazy coral heads rise against a dark blue ocean which falls away quickly to 10,000ft depth and more. Black Grouper and Horse-Eye JacksThese coral heads are home to dozens of fish species: tiny damsel fish with neon blue spots, yellow and black striped sergeant majors, and down below, moving majestically in the spaces between the coral platforms perhaps you can catch a glimpse of a giant Black Grouper.

This is the Sargasso Sea: a unique sea without land boundaries. Bermuda is the only land territory within the Sargasso Sea and it extends outward from us for hundreds of miles, with the shifting boundaries defined only by counter-clockwise currents of the Atlantic Ocean. It is an area extraordinarily rich in biodiversity: a major feeding ground and migration route for commercially important billfish and tunas, including the magnificent Bluefin Tuna, and home to a range of endemic species, many of them threatened and endangered. It is a wild frontier with no protection beyond the boundaries of Bermuda's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Foreign trawlers are regularly sighted and Taiwanese fishing gear has washed up on Bermuda beaches.

It is against this background that the Hamilton Declaration was signed in Bermuda on March 11. Protecting the ocean is difficult; most of the ocean is classified as Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, or more romantically, the 'high seas', and so although there is some goodwill and international interest, protecting the ocean doesn't depend on a single nation making a decision but on a significant number of countries coming to a complicated agreement. A few weeks ago five countries signed the Declaration, including Bermuda, and representatives of six other countries spoke in support. These countries recognized Bermuda's leadership in building an international framework for the protection of the Sargasso Sea.

The Hamilton Declaration establishes the Sargasso Sea Commission, based in Bermuda, with the intention of increasing the protection for the vulnerable eco-systems, and threatened and endangered species that live in or pass through the Sargasso Sea. The people of Bermuda should be proud of our leadership in this area and should support the Sargasso Sea Commission. This Declaration is the beginning, this will be a long partnership of which we, our fishermen, our tourists and our children, will be the beneficiaries.

We must maintain this momentum and follow up with protection for our marine backyard, our EEZ. Last year a public consultation was carried out to determine how best to protect our marine resources. We have not yet seen the results of this consultation, but we urge the Government to demonstrate the same courage and conviction which led to the Hamilton Declaration, and complete the process in our own waters.

Greenrock has long been in support of the proposal to designate the virtually unused outer ring of the EEZ as a marine reserve. Whether we designate this a Blue Halo around Bermuda, or a Marine Protected Area managed in a different way, we need to take action. Less than 1% of the ocean is protected in any way; Conservation International estimates that our oceans contain an estimated 2.2 million species, the vast majority of which have never been seen or described by scientists. We could create the largest marine reserve in the Atlantic and can continue to demonstrate our leadership in caring for our ocean and in holding the extraordinary Sargasso Sea in trust for future generations.

For more information go to greenrock.org/projects/BASS. For more information and to support Greenrock, visit greenrock.org.

'Greenrock Says...'  articles appear in the Royal Gazette Green Pages, published on the first Thursday of each month.


Related local media coverage since January 2014 on the EEZ, the Blue Halo project and the Hamilton Declaration:

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