An ancient sea where Odysseus escaped the sirens song or heroically battled the brutish Cyclops is my imagined association. Although a more real place, the Sargasso Sea is surrounded by beauty, mystery, and legend. First discovered, or at least first recorded in history, by Christopher Columbus and his sailors aboard the Santa Maria and her sister ships. They described a mass floating of seaweed in which they were becalmed for 3 days. Trapped in an unknown sea of gold, the sailors worried that a shallow reef was near. The seaweed was described as “salagazo” a Portuguese word, meaning grape for the tiny globes filled with air. The legend was born of a “graveyard” in an ocean of seaweed.
Photo by Captain Christopher, The Spirit of Bermuda
The Sargasso Sea, located in the Atlantic ocean, is the only sea without a coast. Instead, 4 major ocean currents surrounding the islands of Bermuda border the sea. Covering 2 million square miles of ocean, golden floating masses of seaweed, known as sargassum, host and are home to an abundance of sea life. Over 100 species of invertebrates, numerous species of fish, large predators, and baby leatherback turtles, spawning eels and whales, all rely on the golden forest. Sargassum is pelagic or floating, spending its entire life cycle floating on the water’s surface and reproduces by fragmentation. Most of the growth occurs near shorelines where bacteria and nutrients are heaviest then circulates back out to the deeper waters of the sea.
For anyone living in the Gulf of Mexico, the profusion of seaweed that washed ashore this past summer was sargassum. When sargassum circulates via currents through the Gulf, as it passes the mighty Mississippi, the abundance of nitrogen from over fertilizing farmland upstream encourages rapid seaweed growth. The abundant bloom washes ashore. Thankfully this year instead of spending millions of dollars bulldozing the beaches, the state of Texas left large amounts for natural dune building.
Forty miles of Texas shoreline covered with sargassum from Galveston to Surfside.The Sargasso Sea is an important ocean habitat for all the world's oceans. The biodiversity is vast and abundant. To learn more, visit the Sargasso Sea Alliance at www.sargassoalliance.org