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Introducing ... Free Range Ocean

I'm happy to report that This Chapter has entered into a partnership with Free Range Ocean - a new UK registered not-for-profit organisation on a mission to inspire action for our ocean through adventure, science and storytelling.

As the founder of This Chapter and one of the co-founders of Free Range Ocean it's a joy to bring together my passion for storytelling and ocean conservation in this way.

Free Range Ocean has been an idea for almost a decade and to see it coming to life is really exciting.

Over the years it's been a privilege to drive communications for so many impactful campaigns and projects that protect people and our planet and I look forward to taking all that learning and energy and sueprcharging it at the helm of this new organisation.

A website and update is coming soon.

But the first Free Range Ocean initiative took place this spring, with great success.

Ocean research and data collection is a difficult and expensive operation. The costs are often insurmountable for researchers whether they're focused on a small area of our ocean or seeking to understand the big picture. Yet the data and knowledge is essential to be able to truly understand the challenges and identify the best solutions.

Good news then, that thousands of boats and boaters are out enjoying our ocean at any time, millions of boats around the world, and they can help. There are a surprising number of citizen science initiatives that they can take part in to help to fill the knowledge gaps in these hard to reach places.

One of the Free Range Ocean initiatives will be to inspire and encourage this kind of activity from boaters around the world.

The first project was a big one!

Project: TransPacific

Dates: 86 days between March and May 2023

Vessel: Wild Thing 3 (Beneteau 50 Celebration sailboat)

Passage: Sailing over 7,500nm across the Pacific Ocean, from Whangamata, New Zealand to Victoria, Canada via French Polynesia and Hawaii.

An international crew undertook two citizen science projects during a vessel delivery with the aim of contributing data from hard to reach places offshore to global research projects.

Free Range Ocean

Mission Directors Larissa Clark & Duncan Copeland

Skipper: Mark Griffiths

Crew New Zealand > French Polynesia > Hawaii: Bryce Thurston & Bernadette Marcon

Crew Hawaii > Victoria, BC: Elle Burke & Adam Eason

The projects they were able to support with remote data sampling included:

During the whole passage: Global Oceanic Environmental Survey – A collaborative data collection project coordinated by the GOES Foundation.

Aim and background: More than 60% by mass of all animals and plants in the oceans are under 1mm in size and they have been almost completely ignored by climate scientists, this is surprising because they control our climate, atmosphere and are the life support system for the entire planet.

By way of example, there are more cells of a plant call Prochlorococcus than there are grains of sands, and the mass of small animals called Copepods equates to the mass of 17 million jumbo jets. The animals migrate from a depth 400m every night to feed on the plants at the surface. This is the greatest mass migration on the planet, and their swimming action moves more water than the moon and tides.

The biology of the oceans are critically important but the science emerging is telling us that because we have polluted our beautiful oceans so much over the last 70 years, we have collectively managed to reduce the numbers of tiny planktonic plants and animals by a staggering 50%. This destruction is continuing at a rate of 1% year on year. These tiny animals are munching on toxic microplastic (they can’t tell the difference between plant and plastic particles) and the GOES Foundation have created an observational study so that we can start to estimate the amount of toxic chemical in the deep ocean.

Free Range Ocean Participation:

The crew collected samples twice per day for the entire voyage (minus a handful of times when it was not safe to do so) taking photos of the samples using a microscope on board and documenting the results which were submitted to the project upon landfall. Over 100 at-sea water samples were collected.

This summer, an undergraduate marine scientist will conduct data analysis on the samples collected during the voyage to understand and they’ll share observations and findings.

The crew took a 0.5 litre of sea water, put it through a GOES filter (developed by Dr.Jesus Ramon Barriuso Diez), count plankton, microplastics (fibres and beads) and any other particles which are over 20 microns. By counting the particles, the microplastics and the plankton, the GOES Foundation will use machine learning to undertake the following, but the really exciting thing about science is that other patterns and relationships may start to emerge as the number of samples we all take increases:

  • look for relationships and correlations in the numbers

  • present the data in ways that help us understand what’s going on in the deep ocean

  • add up the amount of toxic PCB that is in the deep oceans of our planet.

Watch this space for the findings…

2. North Pacific: Changes in the pelagic ecosystem

A multi-institutional project, funded by NASA and including the University of Hawaii, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Applied Physics Laboratory of the University of Washington, Smithsonian Institution and Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Aim: The project is to study changes in the pelagic ecosystem induced by the growing amounts of man-made debris floating in the ocean. This debris provides a new, long-living substrate that creates a sustained “floating” ecosystem in the otherwise low-nutrients environment. The idea of the project resulted from the discovery of hundreds of Asian coastal species that crossed the North Pacific with the debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

The project includes:

  • tracking real debris,

  • deployment of a set of Lagrangian instruments, and

  • collection of biological samples.

  • Observations will allow us to improve drift models of various types of debris, from fishing nets to microplastics. Satellite trackers tagging large floating items will enable removal of these debris from the ocean and detailed sampling of biota colonizing these items.

Free Range Ocean participation:

The passage plan would take the crew through the North Pacific and close to or through the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ – the densest accumulation zone of marine debris in the world. With our support, they had an opportunity to support the research by carrying and if possible deploying up to two trackers if the conditions and opportunity are appropriate.

In Honolulu ahead of departure the crew took on board two trackers and made plans to document phenomena as slicks and windrows (aggregations of seafoam, seaweeds, plankton and natural debris that appear on the ocean surface), bacterial blooms, assemblages of neuston (small aquatic organisms inhabiting the surface layer or moving on the surface film of water) and identifiable debris.

The crew observed much marine debris during the voyage (which can be seen as micro plastics and micro fibres in the water sample data) plus larger floating items, but it was not possible to deploy the tracker due to the sea state and lack of opportunities for significant enough sized debris within the range of 30 – 38 degrees N.

It was a reminder of how difficult it is to get this kind of data at sea and why citizen science projects like these are so important.

Many exciting updates are coming on this very soon!

Cover image: Crew member Bryce Thurston collects and documents water samples with Free Range Ocean at sea for the GOES project (c) Bryce Thurston


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