Saving the Sargasso Sea

While a massive step for a small island, the Bermuda Blue Halo initiative is seen as just the first step towards the protection of the Sargasso Sea as a whole.

The Sargasso Sea, a massive area of the North Atlantic around 2,000 miles in width, houses thousands of species, but is being threatened by overfishing, dumped garbage and the effects of global climate change.

The Sargasso Sea Alliance, an international partnership of organisations including the Bermuda Government, hopes to improve protection of the Sargasso Sea, but Chris Flook, of the Pew Environmental Group, said: "To do that, we have to do something on our own house first.

"Bermuda is only responsible for the 200 miles around us. By us doing something with that first, it gives us the moral high ground and it shows we're serious about the Sargasso Sea.

"And it gives the second group, the Sargasso Sea Alliance, the legs to do things and say, 'Hey look, Bermuda's serious about this, and we want to do something about this'."

And protecting the Sargasso Sea is crucial to protect numerous species that are important to the Island, as the seas are home to critical feeding grounds and migratory routes.

"The list of animals that rely on the Sargasso Sea is endless. Everything you can think of in the ocean around Bermuda will gain. Every single thing down to the cow polly.

"Even the chub, something we take for granted. Without the Sargasso Sea, we wouldn't have chubs."

Even the seaweed itself plays a vital role in island life, working as a floating nursery for hundreds of species, including tuna and wahoo, and helps to keep sand on the Island's beaches.

"We scorn at [seaweed] a bit because it doesn't feel nice against our feet and the smell, but it is so critically important to the health of the Island," he said.

He noted that the fishing industry has devastated the fish stock of much of the ocean, with 90 percent of pelagic fish already gone, but that reserves such as the one proposed have been proven to boost fish stock.

"We are really hammering the oceans, and the bottom line is with any sort of business you spend your interest not your principle," he said. "So long now in the oceans we have been spending the principle."

According to Mr Flook, all we have to do is protect it.

Mr Flook, along with the Pew Environmental Group and its numerous partners including Government, hope to turn as much as 94 percent of the zone into an enormous nature reserve.

While the massive scale of the project may initially cause some concern, Mr Flook said Bermuda only currently uses six percent of the zone, and it is hoped the reserve’s borders will allow all Bermudian activities to continue unaffected.

“Nothing has been decided as to exactly where this zone is and how big it’s going to be,” he said. “That’s up to the Bermudian public to let Government know what they think.

“When I talk to the fishermen, one of the first things they say is ‘This is my job, you can’t cut my legs off’. That is not our intention. We don’t want to stop any current Bermuda activity.

“We’re not losing anything, we’re just putting something in the safety deposit box, something we don’t use now.”

He explained that while Bermudians only use a small fraction of the zone, others are believed to be taking advantage of the space. While he was hesitant to publicly name the countries believed to be involved in illegally fishing in Bermudian waters, he said that more than enough evidence has turned up to say that the illegal fishing is taking place.

“Sometimes you see little pieces of net wash up on shore. Occasionally we find long line hooks, that are not local, stuck in fish. I caught a wahoo on the southeast corner of Bermuda that actually had one of these in its gills,” he said, producing a large silver hook from his bag.

“This is bad gear. You could throw this overboard and in 100 years it wouldn’t rust. No one uses this locally. These boats are fishing our waters illegally.

“We don’t have the resources to engage these boats, but by making this reserve, it will attract others with interest to help. There are already a few groups who have expressed interest in furthering connections with the Bermuda Government as to how to enforce it if they make the reserve, but if we don’t make the reserve, there’s no point being there.”

Any ships that are caught illegally fishing in the reserve would be subject to enormous fines, with Mr Flook saying: “If we catch one ship, that could mean millions of dollars in fines, which would go directly into the Bermuda economy”.

Furthermore, he said that creating nature reserves, such as the one being proposed, have been proven to improve fish stock, in turn making it easier for local fishermen to ply their trade.

“You would end up fishing closer to shore, which is better all around because you’re not spending the money on fuel, and we will have more fish so more people will want to come here,” he said.

“The analogy I use is that if you put a stack of $10 bills on a table, it doesn’t matter who you trust, in a year’s time you might have one left. If you put it away, you won’t lose it, and you might gain interest, in this case the interest being increased fish stocks.”

While for some the Blue Halo project is a purely environmental effort, Mr Flook described it as having the potential to be a complete rebranding of the Island, inspiring increased media attention and a boost in tourism.

Noting that the Sargasso Sea is sometimes called the “golden rainforest” by researchers, he said: “It will be the Bermuda Blue Halo in the Golden Rainforest of the ocean. That sounds a lot sexier than Bermuda shorts and the Bermuda onions and the Bermuda triangle.

“We have never looked at eco-tourism seriously here, and we have so much to offer. We are truly unique. We have things nowhere else in the world have.

“We have black grouper spawning aggregations. We have unique mangroves and seagrass beds. We have got the healthiest coral reefs in the Atlantic. The Queen called us the gem in the crown. This is a way of taking that wet blanket off us we’ve had for so long now.”

The establishment of the reserve will also make Bermuda a leader in ocean conservation, revitalising the push to protect the Sargasso Sea as a whole.

“Just by doing this reserve, we will gain so much interest internationally, it’s really going to make us shine. There is no doubt in my mind that this is what is going to happen,” he said. “It shows the world we are serious about protecting the sea.

“This is truly Bermuda’s time to shine. This is a golden egg. If we mess this up, we deserve to be slapped.”

Mr Flook said that Government is hoping to establish the reserve by the end of the year, but a great deal of public consultation had to be carried out before any action is taken so that the end result would be something that all Bermudians can be proud of.

“Obviously though we don’t want to rush it,” he said. “We need to get the information to the public so they can make an educated assessment of this. We don’t want to just force this.

“It’s about having a conversation with all the stakeholders and making sure everyone is on the same page and make sure we have a clear image of what exactly Bermudians want. It might be a circle, it might be a star, it might be a rectangle.

“A chance like this for Bermuda won’t come a gain for a long time. This is truly a pride building, economic boost for Bermuda if we do it right.”

For more information, contact Mr Flook at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Useful website: www.globaloceanlegacy.org.

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