Sargasso sea project

BIMCO hosts first industry consultation event to discuss future governance of the Sargasso Sea

Published: 02 May 2024

The Sargasso Sea is a unique, iconic and globally important high seas ecosystem. Keeping the Sargasso Sea healthy and sustainably productive chiefly hinges on the balance between appropriate utilisation and conservation of its natural resources- achieved by effective collaboration between actors within its area undertaking conservation, stewardship, or commercial and industrial activities, To discuss this BIMCO hosted a consultation event - introducing the GEF-UNDP-UNESCO-IOC Sargasso Sea Project to the international shipping community and highlighting potential opportunities for mutually-beneficial participation. 

Industry consultation on conservation of the Sargasso Sea 

As part of the ongoing GEF-UNDP-UNESCO-IOC Sargasso Sea Project, a shipping-industry consultation event was held at the London offices of BIMCO on the 5 April 2024. Facilitated by NLA International Ltd, the consultation was attended by representatives from BIMCO, IMO, Intertanko, CLIA, UNEP-WCMC, the Sustainable Shipping Initiative, IMarEST, and the UK Chamber of Shipping. The discussion was informed by members of the Project Team, the Sargasso Sea Commission Secretariat and Duke University’s Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab providing an overview of the importance of the area and why this consultation process is so important.  

The Sargasso Sea contains inherent ecological value and is a haven for biodiversity as both habitat and migratory corridor. The consultation process under the project recognises that the shipping community will be essential in helping to determine appropriate voluntary governance and stewardship measures for all users of the Sargasso Sea and that a collaborative approach towards the sustainable stewardship of this unique, iconic and globally important high seas ecosystem is needed. This includes collaboration between those undertaking conservation and stewardship to those undertaking commercial and industrial activities. The consultation considered how keeping the Sargasso Sea healthy and sustainably productive chiefly hinges on the balance between appropriate utilisation and conservation of its natural resources.  

The importance of the Sargasso Sea ecosystem has been recognised within the UN Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) discussions as an area of significance, which is a premise for implementing conversation measures. As such the Project is seen as a ‘flagship’ project for BBNJ and may set the benchmark for future high seas stewardship elsewhere- where, it was noted, that high seas areas like the Sargasso Sea can seem to belong to no one, but their future state is inextricably linked to Earth’s health tomorrow and the associated global benefits. 

Areas covered at the workshop included:

  • A Socio-Ecosystem Diagnostic Analysis (SEDA) for the area will be undertaken built upon an established process used in and across EEZ boundaries- although this has never been done for the high seas. The SEDA process will seek to capture both the importance of the Sargasso Sea as an ecosystem, and its importance from a social and economic perspective and will be used to develop the Strategic Action Plan (SAP). 
  • At the core of the SEDA and any conservation measures will be evidence collection and analysis, enabling an assessment of the environmental (physical, chemical and biological) and socio-economic status (across sectors, towards an ecosystem valuation) of the area. 
  • The shipping industry has the potential to contribute significantly to data collection, and there are already many ships participating in ecosystem data collection globally but challenges of data collection, sensitivity and sharing must be addressed. 
  • The development and implementation of any measures will be something considered during the SAP process and should focus on the effectiveness of existing mandatory and voluntary measures before creating new ones – however some new measures might be needed to address any specific threats identified by the SEDA. It was noted that implementation of measures is likely incur costs and this may need to be re-framed in regard to incentives, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) benefits and mitigation of risks.
  • The designation of a Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSA which would see special requirements for the area is not outside of the realms of possibilities. Currently there are no PSSAs on the high seas, nor has there ever been one. However, PSSAs are not specifically limited to EEZs, so creation of a high seas PSSA could be possible. A key benefit of using PSSAs is that they are familiar to the shipping industry as they sit under the IMO and are carefully constructed to establish the balance of interest between environmental protection and the needs of international shipping. This would of course need IMO member states to propose. A critical element will be establishing how shipping might present a threat against specific identified sensitivities and how measures would mitigate against the threat- and this must be strong enough to convince all the IMO member states to support.

Getting involved in the discussion 

This first consultation session was a good beginning, with a great deal of energy, positivity and curiosity in the room. But there is a long way to go, and many data to be gathered and analysed to develop a clearer understanding of how best to strengthen the Stewardship of this biologically and economically important high seas area. The common heritage of humankind means that, far from the high seas being unowned, there is a shared ownership by humanity of the world’s oceans. This underlines the critical need for negotiation, compromise, and co-ownership in the development of measures, and a fair approach to implementation.

The next consultation for the Project is hoped to be in mid-2024 with the Fishing Industry (another key user of the Sargasso Sea). Following this, during the last quarter of 2024, the Project will seek to bring as many Project key stakeholders together as possible, both Guardians & Users, to broaden and deepen the Projects understanding of human activity in the Sargasso Sea. Any BIMCO members wishing to remain informed of progress in this area or to become more actively involved in the consultation process are invited to reach out.  

The detailed outcomes report of the Sargasso Sea project is available for download in the PDF file below.

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Beverley Mackenzie


Dr. Bev Mackenzie

Head of Intergovernmental Engagement

London, United Kingdom