Greenpeace Sargasso Sea campaign en route to Bermuda

An international crew of Greenpeace workers is sailing today through the Atlantic to Bermuda as part of a mission to help protect the Sargasso Sea.

The voyage is part of Greenpeace’s Oceans are Life campaign, which calls on governments to work together to protect the ocean and marine life by ratifying the Global Ocean Treaty.

The treaty would help to ensure that 30 per cent of the world’s oceans are protected through a network of ocean sanctuaries.

This year, Greenpeace will visit several areas — including the Sargasso Sea — that scientists consider priorities for protection while carrying out research, which the charity hopes will inspire others to join in the calls for greater marine conservation.

Briony Venn, the lead campaigner for the Oceans are Life campaign, said: “The Sargasso Sea is at the heart of the Atlantic Ocean.

“It is the only sea in the world without a land boundary and it is famous for being a golden, floating rainforest.

“The high seas, the seas outside of any national waters, remain unprotected and therefore the majority of the Sargasso Sea still suffers from intense pollution, industrial fishing, long liners and climate change, which are all casting a shadow over its future.

“This is really threatening to tip the delicate balance of nature.”

The on-board experience

Owain Johnston-Barnes has joined the Arctic Sunrise on its voyage from the Bahamas to Bermuda to learn more about the work being done on board and a taste of the life lived by the Greenpeace team.

While most people on the cruise ship port in Nassau on Tuesday were looking forward to cocktails on the Disney Wish, my plans were slightly different.

After two flights, a medical evaluation and perhaps a slight sampling of Bahamian rum, I boarded the Arctic Sunrise on Tuesday afternoon with some trepidation.

While I am Bermudian and am surrounded by mariners, I have spent very little time on the sea.

I know my port from my starboard, yes, but I haven’t spent a night on a boat in almost 20 years and I have never attempted a crossing such as this.

As soon as I was welcomed on board, I was walked below deck to my shared cabin to lay down my bags.

Then it was a quick walk to the mess for our first briefing about life on the boat while I tried to remember exactly where I was going in what felt like a labyrinth of corridors.

The Arctic Sunrise, from what I have been told, is an old Norwegian seal-hunting ship retrofitted for research by Greenpeace, which years earlier confronted the vessel.

A quirk of this history is that it was designed to pass through Arctic ice and, as a result, lacks a keel, which helps to stabilise the ship in rougher waters.

This fact became relevant sooner than I would have liked.

We set out slightly before 7pm on Tuesday after our last passenger arrived with freshly purchased clothing as her luggage never made it out of London, and we ventured out into the high seas with most of the non-crew sitting on the deck to watch the sunset.

As we travelled farther out, the ocean swells became larger and the ship’s bobbing up and down became more and more noticeable.

I retired to my cabin and slept well, but as soon as I woke, I discovered that the bobbing was no longer the slight movement that rocked me to sleep.

Walking to the mess proved a challenge as the ship bounced beneath me and, after some toast, the guests gathered below deck for chore assignments.

I, the lucky devil that I am, drew the straw for toilet cleaning and, while the ship’s many toilets were already in pretty good shape, the combination of the heat of the lower decks and the movements of the ship put my Dramamine motion sickness medicine to the test.

I accomplished my task without chumming the seas with my toast, but others were less fortunate.

The seas calmed a bit, and the fresh air from the deck helped me to push through.

Calmer seas, I am told, are on the horizon. In the meanwhile, I’m glad for pharmaceuticals.

Ms Venn said the Global Oceans treaty provided a mechanism to protect the seas but has yet to be signed into law.

“We need 60 countries to sign this into law, which will offer further protection to the Sargasso Sea and other amazing, unique ecosystems around the world, to reach the global commitment of protecting 30 per cent of the high seas by 2030,” she explained.

“As Greenpeace, we are in a unique position that we have ships and can take people on a journey through these really unique ecosystems.

“The reason we are coming from the Bahamas is that we are working closely with the Sargasso Sea Commission, based in Bermuda, which consists of a number of countries that have voluntarily signed the Hamilton Declaration to preserve the Sargasso Sea.

“The Bahamas are one of the signatories who have been very vocal, so we came to Nassau to have a meeting with their politicians on this matter, and now we are heading to Bermuda to do a load of outreach, learn how you feel about the Sargasso Sea and work closely with the commission and other groups on the ground to really bring this to life for people and gain support.”

Ms Venn said that the campaign hoped to build additional buy-in from those on the island while putting pressure on Britain to ratify the Global Ocean Treaty as soon as possible.

“We really want to cut through to the UK because we know Bermuda cannot ratify it themselves,” she said. “We need the UK to do that.

“We operate in a mass echo chamber in the ocean world. We sell this through to our own people every day, and the persuading has already happened in that area.

“We are looking to reach new people, a new group of supporters, and we are hoping that tapping into new audiences will gain more support in my home in UK and in Bermuda and everywhere for people who don’t usually engage to do so.”

Ms Venn said that Greenpeace was aware that in Bermuda there had been some conflict between the Government and fishers about protection proposals and the group was eager to talk to both sides.

“We know that the fishers have perhaps felt unheard in some points throughout the process and Greenpeace has a brilliant track record of working closely with fishing communities around the globe, so we are engaging with them from the first point,” she said.

“We have had some introductory conversations, and we are inviting them to various forums over the next couple of weeks so we can learn how they feel.”

She added that while most of the discussions in Bermuda have focused on conservation within Bermuda’s exclusive economic zone, the focus for this mission is on international waters.

“High seas protection is hugely beneficial to inshore fishing waters,” she said. “If we can remove the threat of industrial fishing and long lining in the wider Sargasso Sea, the spillover effect will in time bring more fish stocks back into national water.”

While on Bermuda, the group will meet island officials, visit schools and take part in a beach cleaning while offering the public a tour of the Arctic Sunrise, which is expected to dock in Hamilton on Sunday afternoon.

Greenpeace will also use the opportunity to assist with scientific studies by collecting environmental DNA from the Sargasso Sea, use an underwater microphone to collect information about marine mammals such as whales and carry out a seabird survey.

The Royal Gazette