Collaborating for Future Conservation in the Sargasso Sea

09 06 2024
© JP Rouja

By guest writer Sue Quelch

Explorer Sylvia Earle described the Sargasso Sea as The ‘Golden Floating Rainforest’

The Sargasso Sea Commission, formed after the signing of the Hamilton Declaration, is primarily a group of independent scientific experts that has been hard at work in their stewardship role reviewing, researching and safeguarding this two-million square mile iconic area of ocean.

Investigating and understanding this unique pelagic ecosystem of floating, golden Sargassum seaweed has meant engaging with multiple international organisations, such as the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the North-west Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) to name just a few.  The outcomes from this work have seen the closure of seamounts to bottom trawling by NAFO, Eel Workshops, MOU drafts and marine sanctuary collaborations.  

Eel workshops? Two economically important species of anguillid eels travel many miles to their only known spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea. These threatened European and American eels are the subjects of important fisheries, both as baby ‘glass eels’ and as adults.


Following a decade pursuing these conservation measures, two complementary grants have been awarded from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM). The SARGADOM project focusses on protecting and managing the Sargasso Sea (North Atlantic) and the Thermal Dome (Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean), both iconic high seas sites.  The GEF project looks to strengthen the stewardship in the Sargasso Sea through co-operation, recognising the significance of this ocean area both biologically and economically.

Perfect timing alongside the finalisation of the BBNJ Treaty (UN Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction), for the Sargasso Sea Commission to complete the first socio-ecosystem diagnostic analysis (SEDA) for a high seas system - building on its decade of learning.

Sargasso Sea’s position showing Bermuda (centre of small circle). Area between the two red circles is largely classed as the Sargasso Sea (North Atlantic).
© created by Duke MGEL


The Sargasso Sea’s position, within the circulating currents of the North Atlantic Gyre, has the effect of concentrating pollutants which can impact both the diversity and productivity of those species that call it home. Couple that with the fact that it lies within some of the busiest international shipping routes, with potential for over-fishing, close examination of the probability of adverse human activity should understandably be assessed - albeit with a precautionary approach.

Traditionally high seas have been subject to a limited set of general guidelines as set out under the ‘United Nations convention of the Law of the Sea’ and are beyond any individual national government jurisdiction or protection, hence this project will be breaking new ground. Despite seemingly belonging to ‘no-one’, the Sargasso Sea’s future state is inextricably linked to Earth’s health and the associated global benefits.

Shipping Stakeholder’s Engagement Meeting


Early April, working alongside the Commission, NLA International brought together key stakeholders from the shipping community, facilitating an early workshop with the purpose of bringing all parties up to speed with knowledge gained so far plus an overview of the methodology proposed to take the new project forward. Hosted by BIMCO, this in-depth sharing of thoughts and information from all parties resulted in a firm base to move forward together in what will be a crucial project for the health of the Sargasso Sea  and is seen as a ‘flagship’ project for BBNJ and may set the benchmark for future high seas stewardship elsewhere.


The sense of collaboration. Willingness to work together on a sensible approach, based on science and research, was uppermost on everyone’s minds, but also each party brought to the table ecological and environmental measures that were already in place in the shipping industry that might be useful to these early discussions. With positive energy in the room there was an all-round sense this was a good beginning.

Stakeholder Engagement Groups


NLA International hopes to facilitate further stakeholder engagement meetings with all related and relevant parties, using their Blue Economy experience to help guide the process through to a successful conclusion, whatever that outcome is.

The Sargasso Sea Alliance states in its ‘Summary Science and Supporting Evidence Case’ report: “The Sargasso Sea is hugely more valuable as an intact and healthy ocean area than one that is depleted and degraded.” 

Young Anguillid Eels uniquely spawn in the Sargasso Sea.
© JP Rouja

NLA International believes further examination of that ‘value’ - whether it’s the specific economic value to communities that rely on the anguillid eels or the value of the living breeding whales that sequester carbon - will be key to changing perceptions for the necessary regeneration and protection of the Sargassum in the Sargasso Sea.

Keeping it healthy and sustainably productive chiefly hinges on the balance between appropriate utilisation and conservation of its natural resources. This will be achieved by effective collaboration between all actors within its area undertaking conservation, stewardship, or commercial industrial activities.

As this Blue Economy project advances, we look forward to reporting its progress to our readers. If you would like more information or want to give us feedback, please contact us at

Sargasso Sea Ecosystem and Why It’s So Important
Home to its own endemic community, ten species have specially adapted to live within this algae. Two types of endangered anguillid eels make the Sargasso Sea their only known spawning area, travelling vast distances back to their freshwater feeding grounds.  A migratory corridor for whales, sharks and rays, acting as a critical nursery habitat for the whales, several species of sea turtles and multiple varieties of pelagic fish.  If that is not enough, it plays a disproportionately large role in carbon sequestration with respect to global oceans.

Subscribe to PULSE newsletter
Follow Pulse on LinkedIn
Latest news
© Copyright - NLA International Ltd