17 May 2024
by Victoria Mentor

International Shipping Industry Consultation: “Strengthening the Stewardship of a Biologically and Economically Important High Seas Area – The Sargasso Sea”  

The IMarEST was part of a shipping-industry-focused consultation event on the 5th of April 2024. This event aimed to introduce the Sargasso Sea Project to key shipping industry stakeholders, disseminate Project information, and find mutually beneficial opportunities. A readout about the day is attached and a high-level summary is below.  

The Sargasso Sea is a two-million square mile open ocean ecosystem, bounded by the circulating currents of the North Atlantic Gyre. The only country territory in the Sargasso Sea is Bermuda, and it is classified as a high seas area (no land boundaries) and excludes Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), thereby the area is not under the jurisdiction of any one country. It is characterised by the golden Sargassum seaweed which creates a floating pelagic ecosystem for many marine species. The Sargasso Sea is the only known spawning area for two species of endangered anguillid eel, it supports its own endemic community, acts as a critical nursery habitat for pelagic fish species and species of sea turtle, and acts as a migratory corridor for several species of sharks and rays. The Sargasso Sea can also act as a carbon sink, when the seaweed dies it sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor, taking the carbon it has captured. The Sargasso Sea is threatened by various pressures such as climate and pollution as well as impacts from shipping and fishing.  

The Sargasso Sea Project aims to strengthen stewardship of the Sargasso Sea Geographic Area of Collaboration (GAC) and create a coherent approach which avoids fragmented governance. The UN Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) has already recognised the Sargasso Sea as an important ecosystem and area of significance, which is a premise for implementing conservation measures. Since the adoption of the BBNJ in 2023, this project is the first of its kind and is seen as a ‘flagship’ project which may set the benchmark for future high seas stewardship.  

The consultation day started with a keynote speaker from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). They spoke about how the Project links with the BBNJ and how important this project is in demonstrating the potential for high-seas governance. Currently, there are Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) put in place within EEZs, however, none are within realm of the high seas – the Sargasso Sea Project may be the first one. They then went on to say that voluntary actions from industry are hugely beneficial when it comes to monitoring, and gathering data, particularly in vulnerable areas such as the Sargasso Sea.  

The Project was then introduced in two phases: the Socio-Ecosystem Diagnostic Analysis (SEDA) and the Strategic Action Program (SAP), and a discussion about the progress achieved. The SEDA includes a summary of threats and impacts on the area, socio-economic and ecosystem quality objectives and targets, monitoring indicators, and area-based management tools. Data and knowledge gaps are also collated along with a summary of stakeholder participation. The SAP reviews the outcomes of the identified barriers and defines the broad objectives and specific actions that will overcome these barriers. After these two phases have been reviewed and agreed by stakeholders, the SAP will be implemented as well as a long-term data-sharing platform, ongoing communications to stakeholders, and information on best practices and lessons learned.    

The afternoon session included discussions on topics such as data requirements, collection and sharing, voluntary mitigation measures from the shipping industry, and key stakeholders and their potential contributions.  

If you would like a more detailed recount of the consultation session, please view the readout:

Sargasso Sea GEF Project-Shipping Consultation-Readout-FINAL.pdf


The IMarEST is committed to involving our members in any consultation event concerning the marine and maritime industry. If you are a member and would like to express your thoughts about the Sargasso Sea Project, please fill out the Microsoft Form: https://forms.office.com/e/uCNnqgnXpL. Your opinions and views about the Project will be collated and sent to the project leads.   

The Project has already consulted with the Guardian community and the shipping industry, with the third consultation session planned for mid-2024 with the fishing industry. Another consultation session is planned for late 2024, and this session will involve both guardians and users of the Sargasso Sea.