Secrets of the Sargasso Sea

I’ve always thought it’d be neat to visit a point in the ocean where there’s absolutely no land in sight. Nothing but water stretching out to the horizon in all directions. The Sargasso Sea might be just the place! Unlike every other sea on Earth, this one has no land boundary. Instead, it’s demarcated by four ocean currents: the Gulf Stream, the North Atlantic Current, the Canary Current, and the North Atlantic Equatorial Current. Here’s a map.

Photo from the US Fish and Wildlife Service

This sea is a real hotspot of spooky mysteries. It’s a relatively calm patch in the otherwise wild Atlantic; it’s all weak winds, flat waters, and nothing much happening. But this eerie calm belies the supernatural forces that may be lurking about. After all, this sea contains part of the Bermuda Triangle. And indeed, plenty of ships have vanished in the Sargasso Sea. Spooky! Spookier still is when just the crews have gone missing, leaving behind ghost ships that drift aimlessly with the currents. Like the Rosalie, which lost its crew in 1840 after passing through the sea. But it’s not just ships or sailors that have disappeared–whole civilizations may have been lost to these waters! This article from 1925 locates the lost continent of Atlantis in the Sargasso Sea.

On a more scientific note, the sea is named for sargassum, a kind of seaweed common in its waters. Here’s a picture.

Photo from NOAA

Sargassum can bloom into huge, thick mats that bob along the surface, forming what have been called ‘floating rainforests’, unique ecosystems with tons of crabs, shrimp, worms, snails, fish, turtles, eels–the works! Sailors used to think this part of the ocean was impassable. Because the sargassum can get so abundant, they worried their ships would get mired (and maybe lost forever!) in the thick, tangled vegetation.

In parts of the sea that aren’t covered with floating seaweed, the Sargasso waters are startlingly clear. You can see about 200 feet underwater, says Wikipedia. Which is great if you want to see the vast amounts of plastic trash that have drifted in on the swirling currents. The sea has recently earned itself a brand new claim to fame: home to the North Atlantic Garbage Patch. Here’s an interesting Wired article about the garbage patch. (Too bad supernatural forces can’t disappear some of that trash, eh?)

I first heard of the Sargasso Sea when I was a teenager and came across Jean Rhys’ novel Wide Sargasso Sea, a reinterpretation of Jane Eyre’s crazy lady in the attic. That was also when I first heard that you could just take characters from classic works of literature and reimagine them in your own book. Bold move. But as long as we’re doing that sort of thing, how about a reimagining of Cathy Ames from East of Eden? There’s a crazy lady who deserves a second look.