HAMILTON, Bermuda, March 21, 2014 (ENS) – For the first time, the world’s only sea without coasts will be protected from the harmful effects of pollution, ship traffic, overfishing, and illegal activities under a new agreement among five governments and five intergovernmental partners.

The Sargasso Sea, a two-million-square nautical mile ecosystem in the North Atlantic, stretching from 70 to 40 degrees west, and from 20 to 35 degrees north, provides resting, feeding and breeding areas and migration paths for tuna, swordfish, eels, turtles, marlin and whales.

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Sunrise over the Sargasso Sea, June 13, 2010 (Photo by David Lawrence)

The British Overseas Territory of Bermuda is near the western edge of the sea. It was in Bermuda’s capital city of Hamilton that five governments and other international representatives signed the “Hamilton Declaration on Collaboration for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea” earlier this month.

This agreement for voluntary action was signed by the governments of Bermuda, the United Kingdom, the United States, Monaco, and the Azores Islands, which are located near the eastern edge of the sea.

The British Virgin Islands, Sweden, the Netherlands, Turks and Caicos Islands, and South Africa also spoke in support of the Hamilton Declaration.

They were joined by representatives from the secretariats of five international organizations – the Oslo and Paris Commission from the neighboring Northeast Atlantic region, the International Seabed Authority, the Inter-American Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Sea Turtles, the Convention on Migratory Species and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN.

IUCN Senior High Seas Policy Advisor Kristina Gjerde, said, “The Hamilton Declaration represents a rare oasis of joint voluntary action to protect a high seas gem. Strong leadership on better protecting and managing the Sargasso Sea will send a strong message that now is the time for the international community to come together to protect wildlife throughout our global ocean commons. ”

The declaration establishes a Sargasso Sea Commission to provide advice and advocacy that will help ensure effective stewardship.

“I was first attracted to this project by the unique ecological values of the Sargasso Sea and equally intrigued by its audacity. For a relatively small amount of money, we have the opportunity to develop protection measures for nearly two million square miles of open ocean,” said Richard Rockefeller, MD, chairman of the Sargasso Sea Alliance, and advisory trustee and past president of the Rockefeller Family Fund.

“For more than two years, the Sargasso Sea Alliance, together with the Bermuda government, has pushed to establish safeguards for the Sargasso Sea,” Rockefeller said.

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Sargassum, the algae for which the Sargasso Sea is named (Photo by Cocoa Beach)

“This scale of action is unprecedented either on land or in the sea,” he said. “This kind of leverage is available once in a philanthropist’s lifetime, if ever.”

Rockefeller said the need for preservation of the Sargasso Sea is clear, commending comments made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Economist World Ocean Summit on February 25.

Kerry said, “Whether you live on the coast or you live hundreds of miles from the closest beach, the fact is that every human on Earth depends on the oceans for the food we eat and for the air we breathe. Let me emphasize that. Most people don’t think about that, but for the air we breathe. We depend on the oceans, literally, for the essentials of life. And as we all know, the oceans are home to countless different species and diverse ecosystems. And the environmental reasons for protecting the planet’s oceans should be leaping out at people.”

The Sargasso Sea, called by oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle “the golden floating rainforest of the ocean,” is named after the sargassum, pelagic drift algae that accumulates in the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre.

David Shaw, founding chair of the Sargasso Sea Alliance, said, “We hope that our pioneering work to enhance protection of the Sargasso Sea will become a catalyst for protecting vast and vital high seas habitats throughout the world. We are grateful to the many people and organizations who have contributed to our work.”

Teddy Tucker, marine explorer and founding member of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, said, “The Sargasso Sea has been a focal point of my life for 80 years. Preservation of the marine environment is paramount to our existence.”

Find the Sargasso Sea Alliance at: http://www.sargassoalliance.org/; follow SSA on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/SargSeaAlliance, and view video at: http://vimeo.com/72156864.

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