News Release: HAMILTON, Bermuda – Since 2014, the Sargasso Sea Commission has worked to conserve the Sargasso Sea, a unique haven of biodiversity in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, as a case study for high seas conservation. In March 2019, the Commission celebrated its 5th anniversary with a meeting held at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences in St George’s, to discuss next steps to strengthen the stewardship of the Sargasso Sea. As a result of this milestone workshop, the Commission, in tandem with its Signatory governments and partners, continued to explore the possibility of funding through the Global Environment Facility.

In December 2020, the Commission, alongside the United Nations Development Programme and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, formally launched the preparations for a $3 million grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). This project is the first-ever GEF grant designed to address governance of a high seas ecosystem. Dr David Freestone, the Executive Secretary of the Sargasso Sea Commission, says “This grant opens tremendous possibilities for the Sargasso Sea Commission, and will greatly aid the Commission and its partners in their work to conserve the Sargasso Sea”.

The $3 million GEF grant, accompanied by more than $25 million of co-financing from a wide range of partners, will finance a major Ecosystem Diagnostic Analysis of the Sargasso Sea and the Development of a Strategic Action Programme for the future stewardship and sustainable governance of the Sargasso Sea. The project will quantify threats and their potential impacts on the Sargasso Sea (including climate change, plastics pollution, and commercial activities), investigate the drivers and barriers that need to be resolved in order to counter these challenges, and establish a baseline for ongoing monitoring and adaptive management.

The project will include representatives of the 10 Governments that have signed the 2014 Hamilton Declaration on Collaboration for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea (led by the Government of Bermuda), the 7 members of the Sargasso Sea Commission established by the 2014 Declaration, and a wide range of partners, including the Bermuda Institute for Ocean Sciences, the Duke University Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab, Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh, the World Maritime University, and the French Global Environment Facility (FFEM) (which is also financing a parallel project on high seas governance targeting the Sargasso Sea and the Thermal Dome in Central America).

The 2014 Hamilton Declaration established the Commission to encourage and facilitate voluntary collaboration towards the conservation of the Sargasso Sea. The Commission has no management authority but is mandated a stewardship role for the Sargasso Sea, to keep its health, productivity and resilience under continual review. The ten Signatory Governments to the Hamilton Declaration are the Azores, The Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, the Principality of Monaco, the United Kingdom and the United States.