With the oceans facing unprecedented environmental challenges, it’s vital that we all play our part in their conservation. As sailors, we are in a unique position to do so. The sea is an inaccessible place, and conducting oceanographic research is logistically challenging and hugely expensive. By making research and citizen science an integral part of Sail Britain’s wider creative and cultural programme, we can facilitate projects which might be hard to do otherwise, and bring increased diversity to the project and the Sail Britain community, as well as inspiring people and increasing public awareness of ocean sustainability issues. As with all fieldwork, care must be taken to ensure that any results are both scientific and meaningful, so protocols are developed for each project on an individual basis in collaboration with project partners.
During 2019 we shall be working on several research and citizen science projects.
Spanning the entire season, we will be collecting data on the concentrations of Phytoplankton in the seawater in partnership with the Secchi Disk Study. Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms which inhabit the sunlit zone and underpin the marine food chain. They also process huge quantities of carbon dioxide using photosynthesis and produce between 50% and 85% oxygen for the air we breathe. They are a crucial element in the battle against Climate Change, yet they are under threat from warming seas which are affecting their concentration and distribution. Studies in the scientific journal Nature have estimated that concentrations have reduced by as much as 40% since 1950. We will be using onboard equipment to monitor concentrations and upload our data contributing to this important study.
Plastic and Microplastic Pollution
Plastic pollution is one of the more visible conservation issues facing the ocean. Go to any beach and you will see evidence of the estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste which enter the oceans every year. It’s also one of the issues which can be tackled on an individual level and Sail Britain has been addressing this head on. We carry a microplastics net and a microscope onboard to search for the tiny fragments not visible to the eye which are the result of the breakdown of larger pieces. We have carried out research with the University of Exeter on the distribution of microplastics in coastal waters, but a hugely important part of our mission is to allow our crews to learn about the effects of plastic in the oceans and see microplastics first hand. Seeing tiny coloured fragments come up out of a pristine ocean is a profoundly humbling experience and really hits home about the total extent to which plastic has permeated almost every ecosystem on earth.
Together with research out on the ocean, Sail Britain is working with local people and communities to do beach cleans and we are planning a programme of talks and community engagement with the issue throughout the year.
Marine Mammal Tracking
The seas around the UK have been subject to many environmental, climatic and man-made changes over the last few decades and this has an effect on the species which live in them. Those at the top of the food chain such as dolphins, sharks and whales often feel the greatest stresses. By recording sightings of these amazing creatures we can better understand their populations, distribution and conservation. We keep an active lookout for marine mammals and have been treated to some truly extraordinary experiences close at hand. During the 2019 season we will be collecting sightings for the Hebridean Whale and Dophin Trust to advance the understanding of resident and visiting species and help to protect them for future generations.