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There is so much we don’t know yet about the ocean. Especially outside coastal zones, it’s logistically and economically challenging to collect data for research. As sailors, we are already out there, and we can reach places far away from civilisation. We are the eyes of the ocean. Why not make your wildlife sightings part of something bigger? Our observations on location can be extremely valuable to gain better insights on what’s going on with the ocean and its wildlife. The more we know, the better solutions we can create.

Here are a few citizen science initiatives that welcome your contributions and sightings from the ocean. Be sure to check these out beforehand, so you know what data is welcome.

Spot wildlife and plants

Whales

If you see a whale on your travels, remember that whale tails serve as unique identifiers for each whale, like fingerprints. Snap a photo and submit them, along with sighting coordinates to:

Be careful! If a whale is close to your boat, slow down to avoid a collision.

Birding Aboard

A citizen-science project organised by a group of long-distance birding sailors from around the world. Join the bird count and contribute information about bird migrations. Simply take a photo of a bird and write down the location coordinates. The data goes to eBird, a worldwide resource for scientists and conservation groups. Learn more at BirdingAboard.org.

Phytoplankton

Contribute to the seafarer study of phytoplankton. Plankton is particularly sensitive to changes in sea surface temperature. You can help to get more insight into the plankton changes by making a simple piece of scientific equipment called a ‘Secchi Disk’ and getting the Secchi app. Learn more at SecchiDisk.org.

Seaweed

There has been a massive increase of sargassum (a type of large brown seaweed) in 2015 and 2016, especially in the Caribbean. During my first crossing in 2015, we had massive parades of seaweed next to our boat, for almost the full route. It impacts shorelines, marine life, waterways and tourism. Trinidad and Tobago even declared this abundance of sargassum a natural disaster! You can help to add to the data set. Report your observations at sea, in harbours or on the beach through photos, dates and location data to the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. Try some for dinner! Sargassum is edible (in soup or stews, or raw when dried), and a high nutrition-dense source of omegas. Learn more at gcrl.usm.edu/sargassum/.

Note: Check these citizen science projects out before you go sailing to find out more about the data collection methods. Even if you forget those details at the time, collect as much data as you can on the spot. Think of: latitude/longitude, date/time, wind speed, wind direction, sea and air temperature. Take a photo or video if possible, and add any descriptive observations you can make during a sighting.

Report plastic

What plastics do you see in the middle of the ocean? Report marine debris on the Marine Debris Tracker App or Clean Swell App. Learn more at marinedebris.engr.uga.edu. and OceanConservancy.org

Take water samples

You can help Adventure Scientists to study the sources, composition and distribution of microplastics pollution by taking samples of Atlantic ocean water. Learn more at AdventureScience.org.

Set up a measurement station

Team up with the SeaKeepers Society by becoming a Discovery Yacht and launching their Drifter or Argo Float instruments in the ocean! These devices collect temperature and salinity profiles up to 2000 metres deep. Learn more at SeaKeepers.org.

Report illegal fishing

Despite regulations, quotas, restricted and prohibited areas for fishing vessels, no enforcement eyes are out there. There is lots of illegal fishing going on, with ships simply turning off the (required to be on) AIS system. If you see a fishing vessel and you think it’s suspicious act! If for example, it meets up with another boat, or if it’s in a Marine Protected Area, you can track the navigational history of the vessel through Global Fishing Watch. Global Fishing Watch tracks and traces fishing boats based on their AIS. If it doesn’t seem right, report it. Sign up and learn more at GlobalFishingWatch.org.

Which other Citizen Science projects are you aware of we can contribute to as sailors?

“Our actions over the next ten years will determine the state of the ocean for the next 10,000 years.” – Sylvia Earle

The above is an excerpt from the book Ocean Nomad: Catch a Sailboat Ride & Contribute to a Healthier Ocean. Learn more about sailing as a means of travel and contributing to the ocean in Ocean Nomad.



At the end, it’s purpose behind all it that make it worthwhile. Enjoy the journey. And come and say hi in the Ocean Nomads tribe : the global support network for impact driven ocean adventurers.