Oceans: Swimming Among the Sargassum

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Our trip’s timing to Bermuda this week couldn’t have been much more fortuitous. We arrived just as Hurricane Danielle was running out of steam after whipping Bermuda with high waves, and Hurricane Earle to the east is likely to make conditions rough by the end of the week. But right now, as we depart on the Explorer—myself, the oceanographer Sylvia Earle, a film crew following her, a few Bermudian officials and some of the funders behind Mission Blue—the weather couldn’t be more perfect, calm and warm.

Perhaps that’s why we’re treated with a rare sight. We’re on the look out for sargassum, but before we even pass the coral reefs that ring Bermuda—the reefs that have sent hundreds of ships to the bottom—we see patches of pink spume floating on the surface of the sea, much of it entwined with small patches of sargassum. We’re seeing coral eggs, the offspring of the tiny, industrious creatures that build Bermuda’s gorgeous coral reefs. It’s the right time of the month—several days after the full moon—and the calm weather kept the eggs grouped together. “This contains everything you need for a new coral reef,” said Earle. “It’s a starter kit.”

We dove in, snorkeling and skin diving around the coral eggs. The force from our bodies broke up some of the smaller patches, releasing the eggs—perhaps the size of a period at the end of a sentence—to float freely. It was like swimming through a sea of stars, the stuff of pure ocean life. And at the top was the hardy sargassum, the free-floating seaweed that gives the Sargasso Sea its name. “Every time I see eggs or young like that, it gives me hope,” said Earle as she climbed back on the boat. “This is life renewing itself.” And for Earle, this is what she’s fighting to protect.