Saving oceans through science

Oct 10, 2022 by Kevin Maher

SeaKeepers offers crew a chance to pitch in and become a part of the solution.

First Mate Reilly Strand peers into stunningly clear Caribbean water as he reels in a fine-mesh net that the 141-foot M/Y Marcato has been towing for the past 30 minutes. A collection tube attached to the net reveals exactly what Strand has been searching for: a colorful cache of microplastics.

Strand was conducting research for The International SeaKeepers Society, a not-for-profit organization that partners with the yachting community to further oceanographic research and marine conservation. In one program, privately owned yachts are lent for use by teams of scientists. In another, a research task is delegated to crew volunteers who perform the work in their free time aboard the yachts that employ them.

Strand said participating in the program has been the highlight of his seven-year career in yachting. In this case, he and his crewmates were tasked with collecting microplastics and documenting the amount found in the water along their charter’s path. Their most surprising find, however, was how eager the guests were to participate.

“They couldn’t wait to get the net in the water, and they were helping us write down the entries in our logbook,” Strand said. “I think it really caused them to stop and think, ‘OK, this is more of an issue than we initially thought.’”

Strand has also helped tag sharks in the Bahamas and assisted with reef research using an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. The learning curve with these expeditions is steep, he said, but with the strong seafaring skills of crew and the support that SeaKeepers provides, it becomes a great experience.

“Through their guidance and our confidence as mariners, we were able to make those expeditions work in a really cool way,” Strand said.

While crews are always welcome to volunteer at SeaKeepers for these types of expeditions, in order to have the yacht they work on permit the research, they’ll have to have the captain and owner on board as well.

“If you’re an officer or a captain, it’s just a matter of approaching the owner and asking if the vessel could be used for scientific research,” Strand said. “If you’re a little lower on the totem pole, it’s still something you can pitch to one of the officers.”

Strand does warn that the expeditions carry extra responsibility and work, but he has found that it never gets in the way. Instead, he believes his time with SeaKeepers has changed the way he views the maritime industry forever.

“A lot of crew have spent years on the ocean, so it’s a special thing to work with a team of people whose mission in life is just to understand that environment,” Strand said. “To be able to go on an expedition like that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would be a mistake to pass up.”

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