The Sargasso Sea is an oval section of the North Atlantic Ocean
, approximately 2 million square miles
in area, which is covered with free-floating seaweed
(of the genus Sargassum
, hence the name). Because it is bounded by several major Atlantic currents
(including the Gulf Stream
), the water in the Sargasso Sea is very nearly still
, although the sea itself has a slight clockwise
rotation. It is also about three feet higher than surrounding
The sea's climate is unique; its weak currents, light wind, low precipitation, high evaporation, and warm salt water are very hostile to plankton, the ocean's main food supply. Thus, this part of the Atlantic Ocean is somewhat of a "desert" - it's a very warm and dry place without enough food for a normal aquatic ecosystem. However, like terrestrial deserts, the Sargasso Sea's tough climate has spawned a food chain based on specialized flora and fauna. The meadow of weeds floating on the surface is the most obvious difference. In fall and winter, these patches look like tiny floating islands no bigger than a person's head. In the spring and summer, these "islands" grow together to form giant fields of plant life. The animal life in the Sargasso Sea consists of many coastal creatures - even in parts of the sea thousands of miles away from shore! In addition, there are some species of eels, worms, shrimp, and fish found only in this area. The eels of the Sargasso Sea are especially noteworthy, for this is the breeding ground for many American, Mediterrean, and European eels. When time comes for spawning, they leave their homes in the continental rivers and make the long voyage to Sargasso. After spawning, they die, and their offspring return to the home of their parents.
At least as far as the history books are concerned, the Sargasso Sea was discovered by Christopher Columbus's crew in 1492. Upon arriving in the warm, still waters, Columbus's jubliant men became certain that land was near. To them the fields of thick weeds and abundance of crabs and eels meant that their voyage was almost complete. Little did they know they were still thousands of miles from land!
The sea lies between the parallels 20º N and 35º N and the meridians 30º W and 70º W and encompasses Bermuda.