Sargasso_Blue_Ocean_SlugMarine life: This blue ocean slug is an example of the life that exists in the Sargasso Sea surrounding Bermuda. *Photo by Chris FlookFRIDAY, JUNE 13: The Bermuda Alliance for Sargasso Sea formed last June with the intention of supporting a government led plan to protect the Sargasso Sea and the multitude of species that live within it. The Bermuda Sun sat down with four of the BASS member charities to discuss their mission so far.

To many islanders, the Sargassum seaweed often seen washed up on our shores is nothing more than a smelly, unsightly inconvenience that should be swept away to make the beaches prettier.

But there's a lot more to this humble weed than meets the eye — when at home drifting in the vast Sargasso Sea surrounding the island, it is one of the world's most productive marine ecosystems and a lifeline to a multitude of species.

However, this "golden floating rainforest of the Atlantic Ocean" as legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle once described it, is under threat from forces such as over fishing and pollution.

Sargassum weedHabitat: Sargassum weed is home to a multitude of marine species. *Photo by LeeAnne HintonAs such, an effort is being led by Government through the Sargasso Sea Alliance to make the Sargasso Sea a marine protected area (MPA) that would see certain limitations on fishing activity for conservation purposes.

In response to this effort, ten existing local charities and organizations are collaborating to support the alliance under the umbrella title the Bermuda Alliance for Sargasso Sea (BASS).

BASS members are the Atlantic Conservation Partnership, the Bermuda Zoological Society Bermuda, the Institute of Ocean Sciences, Greenrock, the Bermuda National Trust, Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, Bermuda Audubon Society, Bermuda Sloop Foundation, the National Museum of Bermuda and Look Bermuda Education Foundation.

The challenge with establishing this particular MPA is that much of the Sargasso Sea is a high seas area and therefore does not come under the jurisdiction of any specific country. An MPA would therefore have to be organized through numerous countries.

However, that challenge lies with the Sargasso Sea Alliance. The Bermuda Alliance for Sargasso Sea's mission is to share information within our community at a local level through scientific research, education and community outreach thereby helping us come to our own conclusions about a possible MPA.

Judith Landsberg, president Greenrock, explained: "Dealing with multiple governments and countries is a slow and bureaucratic process and a lot of it is happening at a very high level but our mission is to bring it down to a local level — to maintain momentum here, and to get information out.

"It is really easy for this to feel very far away but if we can get information out to the public and to the schools, that will help us advocate for it to our government and help them understand the amount of support out there for it. It's about saying to our government, 'well done guys for taking this first step — what can we do to help you see it through?' The value of BASS to the government is that there is a lot of expertise and a long of history of management and science in the member organizations."

Bermuda Zoological Society President Richard Winchell makes clear that BASS is not another charity looking for funds, but rather a collaboration of existing charities focusing on the same goal. He said: "For the ten member charities listed, this already sits squarely in their mission. We are looking at how we can leverage our infrastructure to accomplish our goal such as research and information sharing. It's about pushing Sargasso Sea into what we are

already doing."

Examples of information sharing are well underway — the Bermuda Sloop Foundation is organizing Sargasso Sea voyages this summer, education is being incorporated into existing summer camps, BAMZ is working on a new Sargasso Sea exhibition while others are looking to get presentations into the schools.

Lynda Johnson, development officer at BZS's Atlantic Conservation Society said: "It is challenging for the public to understand why they should protect something they can not see or touch so through the species and Sargassum we have to make it locally relevant."

Research

As well as furthering knowledge about the Sargasso Sea in the community, BASS also has a strong focus on advancing research.

Mr Winchell said: "We have a scientific advisory — some of us are supporting research in the Sargasso Sea — BIOS in the largest way, and others in smaller ways. Creating the MPA is a huge opportunity to promote, support and expand research and monitoring."

Mr Winchell pointed out that much of the research into the Sargasso Sea is already underway in Bermuda with such projects as the Bermuda Shark Project, the turtle project at BAMZ and the cahow project led by Jeremy Madeiros under Conservation Services.

Ms Landsberg added: "There is a knock on positive effect for the organizations because we meet once a month and are working closely together — it also means we can collaborate more closely on things like World Oceans Day. It extends the reach and information that is of interest to us and to our membership."

The idea to protect the Sargasso Sea is not a new idea according to the Bermuda National Trust executive director Jenifer Gray. She said: "All the organizations had been talking about working on this — our marine environmental committee had been looking at high seas protection five years ago and it gets to a certain point and nothing else can happen. So when this came together we all got very, very excited. It was an opportunity to pool together."

Dr David Freestone, Executive Director for the Sargasso Sea Alliance said: "The efforts of the SSA are well complemented by broad public outreach on the island, ensuring Bermudians are informed about the value of the Sargasso Sea ecosystem to Bermuda as well as the global marine environment."

More information about BASS can be found via www.atlanticconservationpartnership.com.

• All ten BASS members recently agreed to formally support the Bermuda Blue Halo Project, another government led proposal that, with the support of the Pew Environment Group, could see a ring of ocean off shore around the island turned into a "no take" marine reserve.

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