With just weeks to go before IGC3, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza steamed into the Sargasso Sea in early August to begin the third leg of their ambitious Pole to Pole expedition. Part of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign to raise global support for a new UN global ocean treaty, the nearly year-long expedition will sail from the Arctic to Antarctica, documenting special ocean places on the high seas and the threats they face.
The voyage into the Sargasso Sea has been accompanied by an exciting portfolio of science, celebrities and visual content designed to highlight how this unique ecosystem in the central North Atlantic is being impacted by plastic pollution, and why it could benefit from the establishment of an ocean sanctuary formed under a new high seas treaty. To make their case, Greenpeace teamed up with scientists from the University of Florida and actress Shailene Woodley of Big Little Lies to collect data on Sargassum, a floating seaweed that provides critical nursery habitat for juvenile sea turtles and fishes. The science portfolio onboard includes a study looking at whether the habitat might play an additional role in the life cycle of sea turtles, actually acting like an incubator to help them grow. Additional studies are looking at concentrations of micro-plastics, microfibers and macro-plastics in and around Sargassum habitat; as well as species inventories, including sampling for eDNA – a technique that reveals which vertebrate species have passed through an area of ocean over the prior 48 hours. To compliment the eDNA, the team is also documenting life in the Sargasso Sea with blackwater photography, a technique that involves diving along a specialized string of lights in the open ocean, at night, in order to create pictures of creatures that migrate up to the surface from the deep mesopelagic each evening.
The Esperanza will return to port in Bermuda on August 12th and will be the location of an ocean plastics event co-hosted by Greenpeace and the Bermudian government. Following this, film director Manolo Caro of the Netflix series House of Flowers will arrive to produce a creative short film on why the Sargasso Sea needs a new ocean treaty.
The onboard efforts of the Sargasso leg have been complimented by a strong digital campaign to drive signatories to an online petition in support of the ocean treaty. Highlights have included content on Shailene Woodley’s instagram account and a sea turtle video you can watch here. The petition reached 1.6 million signers during the Sargasso Sea expedition.
Cover photo by Greenpeace