Thursday, March 4, 2010

RG: Bermuda can take the lead in protecting the Sargasso Sea, Cox indicates in Budget

Bermuda Royal Gazette
March 1, 2010

Bermuda can take the lead in protecting the Sargasso Sea, Cox indicates in Budget

By Amanda Dale

Bermuda is spearheading the creation of one of the first high seas marine protected areas (MPAs).

The Sargasso Sea could be designated an MPA, protecting its marine life for future generations.

Finance Minister and Deputy Premier Paula Cox announced the project during the Budget on Friday, saying it was not only globally important but would also protect the waters of Bermuda.

"The health of Bermuda's marine ecosystem is entirely dependent on the health of the wider ocean that surrounds us," she said.

"A feasibility study on a project of global importance protecting the Sargasso Sea will be completed in 2010-2011.

"The Bermuda Government will be actively investigating how Bermuda can partner with other governments and scientific agencies to act as a catalyst for the designation of the Sargasso Sea as one of the first high seas marine protected areas (MPA)."

Local and international scientists met this week at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute to discuss the practical steps needed

Environment Minister Glenn Blakeney said: "Bermuda is the only land mass in the Sargasso Sea and as such we are in a unique position to spearhead this initiative to protect the sea as a marine protected area.

"This is an exciting initiative not just for Bermuda but for all the scientists, environmentalists and others around the world who work tirelessly to protect our oceans."

Premier Ewart Brown said: "We know that there is very likely much more that we can learn about how the Sargasso's biodiversity supports life on the planet. What we do know should be enough to persuade anyone that we must protect the Sargasso and other seas like her."

The Sargasso Sea is up to 700 miles wide and 2,000 miles long. Bermuda sits near its western edge.

This area of water is distinctive for its deep blue colour and clarity, with underwater visibility of up to 200 ft. It plays a major role in the migration of the European eel and American eel.

It is also crucial to the survival of young loggerhead sea turtles, who travel to the sea to use its sargassum seaweed as protection from predators until they are mature.

The sea has long been an area of mystery and for centuries was dreaded by sailors because of its deadly calms, also known as the 'doldrums'. Its masses of sargassum seaweed can also stall ships during long periods of weak winds.

The Sargasso also accumulates a high concentration of non-biodegradable plastic waste, which has been compared to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

In this year's Budget, the Ministry of the Environment and Sports will receive $39 million $1 million less than last year.

Government is to further the development of the Cooper's Island Nature Reserve into an ecotourism attraction. It will also initiate a mangrove conservation and restoration plan.

The project will establish a restoration site to protect existing stands and initiate new stands of mangroves.

Environment Minister Glenn Blakeney said: "For Bermuda, mangroves are an important habitat for terrestrial and marine animals and are recognised as providing critical shelter for juvenile fish and organisms at key parts of their lifecycle.

"Mangroves also provide an irreproducible buffer to coastal erosion."

Also in the Budget, Government announced it will amend national parks regulations to tackle litter and dumping, vandalism and scrambling.

Department of Parks officers will also be trained to issue fines to offenders.

Meanwhile, 'user-pay' charges are in the pipeline for people taking waste to the Airport Dump and Marsh Folly.

Andrew Vaucrosson, president of sustainability group Greenrock, said: "The amount of waste Bermuda generates on a per capita basis is shocking. We all need to work together through recycling, composting and post-consumer purchasing. We need to reduce our individual contribution to our waste problem.

"By looking at implementing fees for dumping, this will provide a financial deterrent."

Keep Bermuda Beautiful however, did not welcome the measure, saying it could instead lead to more fly tipping.

Anne Hyde, the charity's acting executive director, said: "KBB members and volunteers have noticed a marked increase in illegal dumping over the last year.

"We feel certain that more people will dump illegally in the woods if they are forced to pay a drop-off fee to dispose of bulky waste material.

"All waste facilities should be free drop-off.'

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More and more plastics in Bermuda waters and Sargasso Sea

Plastic collected on Bermuda beaches by BREAM volunteer Judie Clee.
Note all plastic pieces are heavily bitten, presumably by turtles and fishes.

From the Bermuda Sun newspaper [link]

Friday 26th Feb, 2010

Heather Jardin

Masses of plastic debris collecting east of BDA
Scientists have discovered an area of the North Atlantic Ocean to the east of Bermuda where huge amounts of plastic debris are ­accumulating.

The region is said to compare with the well-documented "great Pacific garbage patch. In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation earlier this week Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association (SEA) announced the findings of a two-decade-long study.

Local scientist Dr. Thad Murdoch is the chief scientist of the Bermuda Reef Ecosystem Assessment and Mapping programme at the Bermuda Zoological Society and said the findings come as "no surprise".

"The way the currents move around the Atlantic is very similar to the ­Pacific," Dr. Murdoch explained. "Floating objects falling into the ­water from either Europe or North America are spun into the middle - from logs to trees to plastic.

"The seaweed in the Sargasso Sea floats around and is held in location by the way of the water currents. That seaweed is a critical habitat for juvenile fish - many of which we rely on as a food source, such as tuna.

"When plastic is mixed up with the seaweed it can have very damaging ­effects on the fish, especially if it is eaten which can kill them.

"Plastic is very new to our world so fish, birds and turtles don't know not to eat it. It is full of hormone mimics called phthalates which can mess up a fish's reproductive system."

The SEA study is the conclusion of the longest and most extensive record of plastic marine debris in any ocean basin, according to the BBC.

Scientists and students from SEA collected plastic and marine debris in fine mesh nets that were towed ­behind a research vessel.

The researchers carried out 6,100 tows in areas of the Caribbean and the North Atlantic - off the coast of the U.S..

More than half of these expeditions revealed floating pieces of plastic on the water surface.

These were pieces of low-density plastic that are used to make many consumer products, including plastic bags - generally very small.

The maximum "plastic density" was 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometre.

A group (called Five Gyres) separate from SEA was in Bermuda last month looking at plastic accumulation off the island. They have had huge support from local environmental group Greenrock.

"We have carried out our own studies here in Bermuda and found very heavily-bitten pieces of plastic," Dr. Murdoch. "It's a real pity because it's not our trash. It is most likely from Central and North America and ­Europe and Africa."