James Devoy on driving civil science on a yacht and why there is something everyone who takes on a passage can get involved in
The notion of conducting scientific research or civilian science on a yacht may sound daunting. It evokes images of experts in white coats working in clinical laboratories. The idea that an average sailor can perform meaningful experiments on a conventional yacht, without special equipment or giving up all his precious sailing time, may seem far-fetched.
But with so many “civil science” projects appealing to volunteer sailors to help them gather data, there are a growing number of opportunities to embrace your inner marine biologist.
Given the relative difficulty of getting out to sea over a long period of time and the enormous size of the world’s oceans, it is easy to see why marine scientists face special challenges in collecting sufficient data, but this is where bluewater sailors can help.
Changes in the ocean can have enormous effects on land, from weather patterns to food production to travel. When the famous sailor and ARC founder Jimmy Cornell set out to update his book Cornell’s Ocean Atlas, he was shocked by the changes in currents in the ocean that had occurred even in his own lifetime. He was moved to add the following to the introduction of the second edition: “Sailors are far more aware of what is happening out at sea, and do not question the change taking place, [they] are just coping. And anyone who does not believe this is happening should just go out and sail the Northwest Passage. “
Cornell’s work has long included mapping changes that occur in the marine environment and climate. To this end, he reached out to several scientific organizations, and on his Aventura IV expedition in 2014, he participated in the Secchi Disk Foundation’s study.
The Secchi Disk Foundation’s study is a long-term social science project that has just entered its 10th year. The program studies the density of phytoplankton in the world’s oceans, which are essential for all aspects of marine life as well as our own on Earth.
Seawater samples are collected in the South Pacific. Photo: Amory Ross / Lines to Hawaii
Phytoplankton is responsible for the photosynthesis process that produces oxygen. An article published in the journal Nature 12 years ago showed that the number of microscopic marine lives had dropped by 40%, which encouraged former Royal Society fellow Dr. Richard Kirby to found the Secchi Disk study.
Long term project
“Phytoplankton is the grass of the ocean,” explains Dr. Kirby. “Not only does it give us the oxygen we breathe, it feeds giant whales, it feeds the fish that feed birds and seals, and the polar bears that feed on the seals. Read also : A new study suggests that women scientists do not get the authorship they should have. It is a mainstay of the world’s ecosystem.”
He says that civic science has many advantages over standard research methods. “It is very difficult to find funding for large research projects, especially if you need to rent a research vessel to go to the deep sea.
Documented seawater samples to check plastic pollution. Photo: Amory Ross / Lines to Hawaii
“In addition, it is difficult to find financing to return to the same place. When applying for a scholarship, people are always looking for something new, but for many sailors it is normal to return to the same places again and again, and it is therefore a great resource to collect data about the changes in the environment at that place. Sailors who regularly make transatlantic cruises, for example, are a great resource. “
Golden Globe Race competitor Susie Goodall brought a Secchi disk with her when she made a transatlantic crossing in preparation for the race. She remembers: “About halfway across Antigua, the water changed color very dramatically and the readings went from 50-60m down to 20m in a couple of days – then I had life in the sea with me again.”
Seafarers can also provide a valuable opportunity for researchers to collect data from less visited regions. Jimmy Cornell sailed with his daughter, Doina, on his Aventura IV expedition with high latitudes. Doina explained: “After reading out the goals of the Secchi project, we knew it was important to get readings, help build a larger database, and had talked to Dr Kirby about how important it is to get sailors to participate. which would be coming to remote parts of the world no one else would visit.
“We also knew that there had been no measurements in the Arctic at that time,” she said.
While the Secchi Disk Foundation still welcomes volunteers, there are a wealth of other projects that are also looking for help from sailors from citizen researchers. See the article : Launch of Hong Kong Science Fair Celebrates Young Hong Kong Designers. Oliver Beardon runs Sail Britain, a project that provides the opportunity to perform experiments at sea on board the project’s own Sigma 41 yacht, including studying microplastic pollution and tracking marine mammals.
Boost out online collection of microplastic samples. Photo: Sail Britain
– Seafarers have a privileged access to the sea, and can therefore much easier and more economically facilitate the collection of oceanographic and environmental data than research teams that may have to rent vessels with large costs. We’re out there all the time! “Beardon explains.
“Everyone can get involved in learning more about the sea. If you have a boat and want to contribute to marine civil science, it is useful to contact a research partner or a team that needs the data you can collect. “
He’s right, many research institutes or universities we spoke to confirmed that they would take the chance to let sailors help collect data for them, so it can be a great starting point to contact the Department of Marine Sciences at your local university.
Susie Goodall and a Secchi disc. Photo: Secchi Disk Foundation
In 2013, Paul Bennett and his wife, Lani, left for the world with their three daughters. While looking for engaging educational projects suitable for three teens, they became involved in several voluntary civil science programs, giving Bennett a great opportunity to learn about marine science. The family contacted local marine science organizations wherever they anchored, and adapted their route accordingly:
“We are targeting it,” Paul explained, “after the first [project] we looked for ways to integrate it. Citizen science opens up all kinds of possibilities related to the place.”
The Bennett family has been involved in truly practical civic science projects around the world, from tagging whale sharks in Cape Radd in South Africa to helping rebuild coral reefs and testing the water quality of the Malacca Strait in Indonesia.
Cleo Bennett, the middle daughter, has just finished high school on the boat and takes an intermediate year to stay on board. They are currently moored in South Africa and she continues to volunteer at the local aquarium. She says that her experience with civil science had changed her perspective on the sea: “I think we have seen more dead coral reefs than living ones. And dead coral reefs are not the same as bleached, you can save bleached coral reefs, dead will not return. “
The Bennetts not only continue to build opportunities for civic science into the curriculum for their own children’s schooling, but started a business that connects online tutors with parents who want to teach their children externally and include project and volunteer work.
“Raising three teenagers on a boat while sailing around the world has been challenging, especially when it comes to school. Cicero (cicerolearning.com), the company we just started to help boating students like ourselves find and hire private tutors, runs many project-based learning programs, which often have a social science or volunteer aspect. “
First hand experience
In the 1960s, marine biologist Scott Johnson was based in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean and studied how biological activity affected the redistribution of radioactive particles again from nuclear testing in the 1940s and 1950s. See the article : Volunteers to Help Collect Data for Science are honest, but not different. He began to document the local marine flora and fauna, but as the Internet connection became more widespread on the islands, he was able to reach out to others for help.
Cleo and Jade Bennett collect web samples on board Daphne II. Photo: Paul Bennett
What started as a simple website for sharing pictures of colorful nude snails (otherwise known as sea snails) quickly led other contributors to share their photos and has now evolved into a far more comprehensive study of local corals, sea snails and all types of marine life. than was collected before. Similar projects include Redmap, which asks Austrian aquaculture users to discover, log and map unusual observations of marine species.
Johnson sees the changes sailors in the region have witnessed as a warning: “Excess carbon dioxide acidifies the oceans, causing increasing problems for animals that require calcium for shells, coral skeletons and the like. Rising water temperatures have increasing effects on the distribution and populations of marine animals, and cause extensive damage to coral reefs through coral bleaching.
“I fear the site may simply be an overview of what used to be in the Marshall Islands, not what still is.”
One of the biggest barriers for marine scientists is the lack of time spent in the field. With the conflicting time requirements for teaching, obtaining scholarships and funding, and overseeing laboratory work, there is often very little opportunity for researchers to make first-hand observations. Therefore, patterns or habits that may seem obvious to locals or cruise sailors in the region may never have been seen by a scientist. It is the shared knowledge that has one of the greatest benefits for researchers.
Scott Johnson recalls meeting a marine biologist in the Pacific Ocean: “A visiting scientist was an expert on crowned sea starfish, a species that eats corals and occasionally undergoes population growth that damages coral reefs. In conversation over dinner, he mentioned that no one really knew where the young crowned starfish was; the adults appeared to appear on the cuttings that were fully grown. Well, probably any interested amateur who had spent time looking for slugs or shells would have told him that the little starfish lived under rocks, where they could probably avoid being eaten by fish. “
By building a bridge between local knowledge and scientific research, blue water sailors can help make real improvements in researchers’ understanding of the ocean and climate change.
How to get involved with citizen science on a yacht
Below is a list of organizations with ongoing projects that sailors can get involved in:
Secchi Disk Foundationsecchidiskfoundation.org
Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trusthwdt.org
Kwajalein under water
Photographic overview of marine life on the Marshall Islands.underwaterkwaj.com
Australian Marine Life mappingredmap.org.au
Citizen science projects including coral mapping in Mexicoadventurescientists.org
Seakeepers’ SARAH initiative
Kit on board to perform experiments, plus hosting opportunities.seakeepers.org
Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Numerous projects with a number of voluntary options.pml.ac.uk
Ocean plasticsdebristracker.org tracking app
If you enjoyed this….
Mixes photography and satellite imagery to map weather patterns.observer.globe.gov
The National Ocean Service
Who owns superyacht kisses?
|Home to several marine civic science projects running in US.oceanservice.noaa.gov||Marine Biological Association|
|UK marine life and non-native species survey.mba.ac.uk/citizen-science||European Marine Board|
|Many activities and webinars.marineboard.eu/activities||Manta Trust|
|Takes pictures of devil rays to identify migration patterns.mantatrust.org / idthemanta||Just an ocean|
|Includes a microplastics survey.justoneocean.org||Yachting World is the world’s leading magazine for bluewater cruisers and offshore sailors. Every month we have inspiring adventures and practical functions that help you realize your sailing dreams.|
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