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Pioneering Ocean Race science equipment on new mission

by Robin Clegg 5 Jul 11:14 BST
Volvo Ocean Race - Leg Zero, Around the Island Race. 02 August, 2017 © Marc Bow / Volvo Ocean Race

Devices that collect valuable information on ocean health are being used to further understanding of the state of our seas.

The team AkzoNobel boat, which last year finished fourth in the gruelling nine-month global race, is continuing its work to help advance understanding on the health of our seas by collecting data in European waters.

The 'Ocean Pack' device is recording the information and sampling microplastics to contribute to scientific knowledge of the pressures affecting our ocean. This information will be compared with some data points from the previous race to understand if there has been any change in levels of concentration.

On board the boat, Australian Liz Wardley and Nicolai Sehested, from Denmark, who raced on Turn the Tide on Plastic and team AkzoNobel respectively in the last edition, have reprised their roles as sailors turned scientists, to help collect the vital data.

The information is being collected between stops on The European Tour, a series of summer pro-am sailing events around the continent that finishes in Alicante, Spain, where the HQ of The Ocean Race is based.

Anne-Cécile Turner, Sustainability Director for The Ocean Race, said: "We pioneered the idea of binding extreme sport and science together at the nucleus of a global event and were able to advance knowledge on the state of our seas, particularly in some of the remotest corners of the globe that we visited during the last race.

"However, our work didn't stop there and we are now using our platform to continue to provide much needed impetus by Racing with Purpose, building on our legacy, to help deliver change that will restore the health of our precious ocean racetrack."

This scientific work forms part of the 'Racing with Purpose' programme of The Ocean Race, in collaboration with Premier Partner 11th Hour Racing and supported by Official Partner Bluewater.

Rob MacMillan, Co-Founder, 11th Hour Racing, added: "We are excited to continue this innovative sports-driven science project, building on the achievements of the last race and looking at future developments in the field of ocean data collection and analysis.

"It's great to see some of the sailors directly involved again, they are a key element to this program - not only for their role as citizen scientists, but also for their unique power to communicate directly with their fans, peers and youth and get them interested, and involved, in the global topic of ocean health."

Meanwhile, the second device from the last race has been used as part of the Iodysseus Project Bloom expedition gathering samples of plankton that will increase scientific knowledge of how these critically important sea organisms are affected by ocean acidification and changes in sea temperature.

The project followed the great North Atlantic Bloom of plankton - a little understood biological event which stretches from the Azores to the Arctic Circle - off the north west coast of France.

All life in the ocean depends on plankton as they form the basis of the marine food chain. They are classified as either plant (phytoplankton) or animal (zooplankton) species.

Phytoplankton absorb more than two billion tonnes of CO2 each year and produce more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe. Shells from zooplankton organisms are used to make sunscreen and scientists are to study the possibility of synthetically reproducing them in the laboratory.

The team AkzoNobel was part of the 2017-18 edition of the prestigious round-the-world sailing race dubbed 'sport's toughest test of a team'.

It took part in a groundbreaking Science Programme gathering data on the spread of microplastics, sea temperature and CO2 levels, amongst other oceanographic information. Alongside the Turn the Tide on Plastic boat it found that from a total of 86 samples taken, 93% of those analysed contained levels of microplastics.

Even close to Point Nemo, the furthest place from land on Earth, where the nearest humans are on the International Space Station, particles of microplastic were recorded. The results of the programme contributed to increased understanding of the global marine presence of microplastics providing a template for future data collection.

Liz Wardley, who collected samples on Turn the Tide on Plastic boat, added: "We had the microplastic filtration system on board our boat in the last race and the data that came back was, for me, pretty horrific.

"I think from all the samples we took around the world there were only two filters that came back without plastic in them - I was shocked."

The highlights of the new 'Racing with Purpose' programme includes a series of 11 Ocean Race Summits, starting in Genoa this September. These Summits bring the worlds of politics, sport, business, academia and science together to find ways to address the impacts and solutions to improve ocean health.

The Ocean Race has also developed an exciting Learning Programme for schoolchildren on the issues and solutions linked to ocean pollution.

The next edition of the race will set off from Alicante in the autumn of 2021: www.theoceanrace.com

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