Written by Jen Finn
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - Officials from the Pew Charitable Trusts and 1 of famed underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau's grandsons were in Bermuda on Thursday calling for the creation of the Atlantic's biggest marine reserve.
The ambitious "Blue Halo" plan would create a vast reserve in ecologically rich waters between the tiny mid-Atlantic territory's coastal fishing areas and its 200-mile (322-kilometer) exclusive economic zone boundary.
Advocates say it would safeguard significant parts of the Sargasso Sea, a 2 million-square-mile (3 million-square-kilometer) body of warm water in the Atlantic that is a major habitat and nursery for numerous marine species. It would potentially start 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Bermuda's shore and ring the territory, ensuring that anglers could still fish offshore.
Bermuda is the only island within the Sargasso Sea, known for its mats of brownish Sargassum seaweed and as the spawning place for European and American eels.
Philippe Cousteau, an ocean campaigner who is frequently seen discussing marine issues on U.S. television, said the Blue Halo reserve would affect few Bermuda fishermen, since most don't venture beyond 25 miles (40 kilometers) from shore. If anything, he said, it would improve catches since research has indicated that fishermen eventually haul in bigger catches when a nearby marine reserve provides a safe haven for fish to grow.
Cousteau believes the plan would boost tourism, Bermuda's top economic driver along with offshore financial services.
"I think it's something that Bermuda can really turn into a gem," Cousteau said during a phone interview from Bermuda, where he and Pew officials were meeting with officials, fishermen and others.
Derrick Binns, permanent secretary for Bermuda's Ministry of Environment & Planning, said in an email that the initiative "continues Bermuda's longstanding commitment to ensuring the sustainability of our marine environment."
He said the government will undertake a public consultation to evaluate the views of the territory's population.
"Upon consideration of those views, the government will then determine if such a marine protected area will be created, and if so, the location, size, shape and the nature of protections to be associated with it," he wrote.
Matt Rand, director of Pew Charitable Trusts' Global Ocean Legacy Campaign, said, "There has been strong community support for the Blue Halo during the many meetings and outreach efforts that Pew staff has been engaged in."
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