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Ocean Genome Legacy Newsletter
April 2013

banner 600pixel    exploring, preserving and protecting the genetic diversity of the world's oceans

In This Issue
The Golden Floating Rainforest
Educating Tomorow's Marine Scientists
Coming Soon...
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When we think of marine areas needing protection, we usually think of coasts; where human impact on marine water and wildlife is obvious.  But to many, the middle of the ocean can seem like a barren wasteland.  And yet, the ocean's swirling currents create pockets of concentrated life in the middle of nowhere.  These "gyres" can serve as primary feeding and spawning grounds along the migratory routes of many species, and often are home to species found nowhere else in the world.


The Sargasso Sea is one such ecosystem.  Read on below as we show you what makes the "Golden Floating Rainforest" special, and what efforts conservationists are making to ensure its protection. 


And, as always, follow our expeditions and other news from the marine world on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

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The Sargasso Sea: The Atlantic's Golden Floating Rainforest
Sargassum from above, below, and up close.
Photos: NOAA
A very special, dynamic ecosystem lies in the mid-Atlantic Ocean.  The Sargasso Sea gets its name from a genus of unique 'holopelagic' (free-floating) seaweed called Sargassum, the only seaweed in the world that reproduces vegetatively on the high seas.  Dubbed the "golden floating rainforest", this forest of Sargassum plays a primary role in the health and biodiversity of the entire Atlantic ocean.

Sargasso Currents
Illustration: GOBI
Although it is ever changing - expanding and contracting - the Sargasso Sea is not an arbitrary accident of nature.  It is formed by the  the Gulf Stream, the North Atlantic Current, the Canary Current and the North Equatorial Current working together in a clockwise gyre that lassos the sargassum and a variety of other unique plants, plankton and creatures not strong or mobile enough to break free, forming a mid-ocean habitat teeming with life. Migrating sea turtles, whales, tuna, sharks, and other species are attracted to this floating forest for its richness of nutrients, and its sheltering floating islands are the sole spawning ground for American and European eels.

It's not just sea life that gets trapped in the Sargasso's lasso.  The Sargasso has become one of the world's largest floating garbage dumps, capturing and concentrating non-biodegradable plastic waste, oil, and bilge discharge. These pollutants can harm the sea turtles, whales, and other species that travel through the Sargasso's forests, as well as the eels and fish that come there to spawn. Other threats to the ecosystem include negative impacts of fishing, harvesting of sargassum for fertilizer and bio fuel, seabed mining, climate change, and ocean acidification.


For these reasons, groups including the Sargasso Sea Alliance (SSA) and the Bermuda Alliance for the Sargasso Sea (BASS) began in 2009 to propose a Sargasso Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA).  But the process has not been easy; the majority of existing MPAs have been set up within the 200 mile-limit Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of individual countries or on their Continental Shelves. There is, as yet, no global legal framework for the establishment of MPAs outside these zones. These "Areas beyond National Jurisdiction" (ABNJ), are the least protected in the world. 

Dr. David Freestone, Executive Director of the SSA, has recently been working with EU representatives, UNESCO, and a variety of non-governmental organizations to develop an agreement and a workable policy that will enable protection of areas such as the Sargasso Sea.

In the meantime, OGL is working with the SSA, BASS and others to document and preserve the extant biodiversity of the Golden Floating Rainforest.  OGL hopes to create a genome biodiversity collection that will provide the baseline data needed to justify and support the establishment and maintenance of a Sargasso MPA.  Stay tuned in future months as we keep you apprised of our progress!  



For an overview of how the Sargasso Sea's geology and biophysics have contributed to creating a region of uniqueness, see this report from the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative (GOBI)


Click here to download the SSA's Case for Protection and Management of the Sargasso Sea.   


Click here to listen to composer Suzanne Ciani's impression of what the Sargasso Sea means to her. 

OGL Brings Genomic Archival to High Schoolers
MME Workshop
OGL reaches out:  OGL staff Sandra Dedrick (upper left, center) and Dan Distel (lower left, center) help students learn about DNA by extracting it for themselves at the Massachusetts Marine Educators' High School Marine Science Symposium.
Triton 2013
(Top)Dan Distel shows Triton students shipworms, while
(Bottom)Robbie O'Connor explains how to purify DNA
OGL has been busy in the past month sharing knowledge and skills with future scientists.  On March 20, OGL presented a DNA extraction workshop at the Massachusetts Marine Educators' High School Marine Science Symposium (MME-HMSS), held at Endicott College in Beverly, MA.  There, students from all over northeastern Massachusetts came to learn the ins and outs of marine science, boat building, underwater photography, environmental protection and more.  The tables were then turned on April 11 when students from Triton Regional High School's Marine Biology and Environmental Science classes came to our laboratory to meet the shipworms and purify DNA.

Do you have a group that is interested in learning about genomic conservation?   Contact us to find out more about what OGL can offer in the way of tours, workshops and classes.  
 Coming Soon...

Marine Mothers        

"M is for the way that your mouth cuddles me... "


There are many "right" ways to raise a child; sometimes it takes a village of friends and family to support you, sometimes it means continuing to baby your grown son well past his 30's, and sometimes it might even entail sucking your offspring into your mouth when predators are near!  Join us next month as we pay a Mother's Day tribute to marine mothers and the lengths they go through to help ensure the survival of their young.


This Malawian baby cichlid, Labidochromis caerduleus, is safely waiting in its mother's mouth for the all-clear.
Photo: Columbia Academy


Want to help OGL document and preserve the spectacular genetic diversity of our world's oceans?  Visit


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Dan Distel
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