The Sargasso Sea is a strange and a unique creation of the nature. The sea area which is some 700 miles wide, 2000 miles long and located in the North Atlantic, has no shores. It is bounded by ocean currents on all sides. To its west is the Gulf Stream Current, on its east is the Canary Current, northern side is bounded by North Atlantic Current, and the south by North Atlantic Equatorial Current. The island of Bermuda is located on its western fringes.
With such ocean currents on all sides, this sea area unlike the harsh cold North Atlantic, is strangely warm with stable weather conditions and with calm and weak winds. Another strange phenomena which is nowhere seen in the world is, this vast water area is covered with some dense seaweed which forms a thick mat on the surface. This free floating golden-brown seaweed is knows as Sargassum and therefore such name of the sea.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Sargasso sea is vast in area. It is nearly 1,000 miles wide and 2,000 miles long. And it's located on the North Atlantic Ocean stretching from 30° to 70° west and from 20° to 35° north.
Although the Sargasso Sea remains calm with its surrounding currents, a subtropical gyre is formed here. As a result the entire sea area with its mat like weeds slowly rotates clockwise. The rotation also depends on the surrounding weather conditions.
Some Portuguese sailors first discovered Sargasso Sea with its mat of seaweed in the early 15th century. Even Christopher Columbus who sailed through it in 1492 with his fleet of three ships and 90 men, thought that he must had reached the land as he looked at the vast stretch of dense brown surface. They initially feared that the ships might run aground as weeds are usually seen in shallow waters near the shores. But in reality, the sea here is several miles deep.
Sargassum Seaweed found in Sargasso Sea
It is known today that these seaweed are not blown into this area from the shores by the water currents. They are actually native to this area and grow here vigorously hundreds of miles away from the shores. Although there are other such currents like in the South Pacific and in North Pacific that too circle around, but there is no record of such thick formation of seaweed in any such areas.
It is also known that due to the ocean currents, vast amount of marine plants and even trash get drifted into Sargasso Sea from the nearby ocean areas and become embedded into these weeds. Once these move into the area, it is unlikely that they are ever able to move out due to the nature of the currents on all sides.
The Bermuda Triangle Connection
Sargasso Sea is located within the Bermuda Triangle area
with one of its corners Bermuda being on its western fringes. While it is known that the large freighters and barges can steam through this area with ease and the seaweed not a real threat to shipping, many derelicts have been found in Sargasso Sea which are mostly the skeletons of sailing ships from earlier days.
Many sailing vessels that tried to pass through this area requiring wind to sail along, sometimes became motionless due to the exceptionally weak and calm winds. And the thick seaweed also would have played their role in stalling the vessels.
There is a calm weather belt that passes through Sargasso Sea between 30 and 35 latitudes and it is known as the Horse Latitudes because the crew of becalmed Spanish ships stranded for weeks had to often throw away their horses overboard in order to save drinking water. The legend says that the winds are so still here that ships were even seen stranded for months at a time.
Sargasso Seaweed: Close-up View
Source: Wikimedia Commons
There are stories that the weeds creep up the sides, and up the ropes and chains and hold the ships firm, stopping them from sinking. The men aboard would die out of thirst and starvation under the hot sun and the ships would eventually become a rotted hull manned only by skeletons.
There are strange looking creatures that can be seen crawling on the weeds. Although it is known that borer worms in tropical waters are common and they can turn a vessel into a rot, but these creatures have been later portrayed as monsters and giant squids in various books and media. These creatures have drifted in from the shores along with trash and debris, and have now adapted to life here.
Sargasso Sea has been in the center of Bermuda Triangle mystery for several cases where ships getting lost were later found here as derelict without a single crew on board. As reported in London Times, the Rosalie was one such case when it sailed through the Sargasso Sea in 1840 not to be found. When it reappeared, there was nobody on board.
The American schooner Ellen Austin
found an unknown ship on sail in this area in 1881 but with no one on board. The captain sent his salvage crew on board the unnamed ship. But the ship disappeared. When it was retraced after two days, like before there was no one on board.
The abandoned yacht Connemara-IV was drifting on its own in 1955 about 140 miles away from Bermuda. Apart from this there were also a number of boats and yachts found floating unmanned on the Sargasso Sea between 1960s and 1980s.
However, a deeper diligent research by Larry Kusche (Author of the book The Bermuda Triangle Mystery - Solved) showed that most of these incidents could be explained with causes of human error, equipment failure or violent weather except for a few cases where sufficient information was not available, while several incidents had been misreported or did not take place at all in Bermuda Triangle.
For example, the yacht Connemara-IV encountered an extremely violent storm with winds up to 182mph and waves as high as 40ft. When it was found derelict, it was being towed to Dakar, but midway the tow rope broke and the yacht sunk.
But even Kusche noted... "The Sargasso Sea, both in truth and in fiction, is a strange place".
Conservation of Sargasso Sea
Despite its strange nature, the international marine scientists and oceanographers recognize the importance of Sargasso Sea and its role with the wider North Atlantic ecosystem. Renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle calls the Sargasso Sea The golden rain forest of the ocean
. The Bermuda Institute of Science
has been studying this area for over 50 years.
The dense mat of seaweed are home to fish, turtles and many types of marine life. The American and European eels come here and use the weeds as their breeding ground. Young Sea Turtles use the ocean currents to travel to the mat of weeds to get a cover from their predators and return once they become mature. The plant materials available here serve as rich food for Wahoo, Tuna and other types of fish who migrate through this sea area. It serves a great place of forage for even the migrating humpback whales.
Unfortunately, while the ocean currents bring in lots of marine plants into this area, the same currents also bring a vast amount of garbage from the other parts of the ocean including the non biodegradable plastics. In 1968 it was found that the area has more tar and oil than weeds because of oil spills accumulating here from all over the world. This is the main reason for the initiative taken up by the Bermuda Government to conserve and protect the Sargasso Sea.
Raj is an avid traveler, a travel journalist and a blogger. As an author of this website, he shares deep insights on Bermuda and related areas of interest. Since years, he has been helping countless viewers by posting quality articles, answering questions and sharing experiences on this website. Launched in 2008, this website is Bermuda's one of the leading sources of information since many years.
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