Scientists say yachtsmen could become citizen oceanographers

Captain and Professor Federico Lauro, of UNSW and Nanyang Technological University, and crew prepare the Indigo V for a squall.

Yachtsmen could become “citizen oceanographers” and provide vital scientific knowledge about the world’s oceans by sampling and testing remote waters from their yachts, under a plan by leading scientists from 12 universities round the world.

The scientists sailed a yacht 6,500 nautical miles across the Indian Ocean to prove that recreational sailors could help plug a huge gap in data that is holding oceanography back.

“By using what’s known as ‘citizen science’, Indigo V Expeditions set out to prove that the concept of crowdsourcing oceanography can solve the great data collection bottleneck” said Professor Federico Lauro, Director of Indigo V Expeditions, the not-for-profit organisation behind the S/Y Indigo V concept cruise.

During the four-month voyage from Capetown to Singapore, the scientists established a baseline of data and developed instrumentation called the Ocean Sampling Microbial Observatory (OSMO).

The expedition cost less than two days of ship-time aboard an oceanographic research vessel.

By equipping as many ocean-going vessels as possible with small instrumentation like this, the scientists will be able to collect invaluable and large-scale data sets about bacteria, plankton and the marine eco-systems that have never been possible before.

"We were able to run an entire scientific expedition across never before sampled waters for less than what it costs to run an oceanographic vessel for one day" added Professor Lauro.

The scientists came from universities in Australia, Singapore, Denmark and the US. They have published an account of their adventures in PLOS ONE.

Professor Joe Gryzmski, Lead Expedition Scientist and last author, explained the vital importance of the study:

Oceans serve as the primary ‘respiratory’ and ‘nutrient cycling’ machine for the entire planet. If the oceans are in peril, mankind is in peril. With world population on the rise, now more than ever, understanding global ocean microbiome health is of urgent priority”.

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