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Can the world’s luxury yacht owners help reduce ocean scientists’ biggest expense: ship time?

The International SeaKeepers Society is offering yachts for marine science expeditions, free of charge.

Marine scientists perform research ranging in scope from global food security to threatened species conservation to climate change, research that is critical to a healthy environment. As with other scientific disciplines, however, funding cuts threaten the future of this researchA recent Joint Ocean Commission Imitative report gave the United States government a D minus on funding for ocean sciences, and one of the primary funding programs for ocean exploration has been proposed for termination.

Even as funding is reduced, costs associated with ocean science research are rising. In particular, the fuel costs for research vessels, of which there are fewer and fewer each year, are increasingShip time often costs tens of thousands of dollars each day. This huge expense is critical, as researchers have to get to their study area before they can begin to study it. The International SeaKeepers Societya non-profit founded by a group of luxury yacht owners, wants to help reduce or eliminate this cost by hosting marine science expeditions on private yachts. “By providing scientists in need of a research platform at sea with the opportunity to work off a privately owned vessel at little to no cost, SeaKeepers helps remove one of the most costly aspects of data collection: access to the water,” says Brittany Stockman, Director of Programs and Policies for the International SeaKeepers Society.

This partnership has been a great success so far. “It enables the yachting & boating community to take advantage of their unique position to advance marine sciences and conservation efforts, to encourage yacht owners to actively participate in ocean conservation,” says Stockman.   To date, six yachts have donated time to host research expeditions ranging from deploying oceanographic buoys to at-sea genome sequencing of plankton, with many more trips planned all over the world for the near future. This allows for a unique outreach opportunity, giving expert researchers the chance to explain ocean science and conservation to people who spend much of their lives on the ocean.

While some research vessels have specialized equipment that can’t be duplicated on private yachts, many marine scientists simply need a boat to take them and a relatively small amount of research equipment to their study site. This is something a yacht can easily accomplish. “Some of the smaller boats can only support day trips for a few researchers, while our larger vessels have dive compressors, cranes, tenders and sleeping arrangements for up to 12 guests.  The largest vessel we have worked with to date was designed with open bow space, which allowed us to put a genome sequencing container lab onboard,” says Angela Rosenberg, Associate Director of Programs and Policies for the International SeaKeepers Society. “Each expedition we do is tailored to the scientists’ needs and yacht owner’s interest.”

Any marine scientist can submit a proposal for ship time from SeaKeepers’ website.  Once evaluated by the board of scientific advisersthe SeaKeepers team will “take into account the location and availability of the yachts, and see if the yacht’s schedule works with the scientists’ calendar. There is a bit of matchmaking involved,” Rosenberg says.

While funding cuts to ocean science remain an enormous concern, groups like SeaKeepers can help. There have been three SeaKeepers expeditions so far in 2014, and Rosenberg wants to arrange one every month. “We haven’t reached that level yet but I can tell you that we currently are not near our capacity,” she says. “By removing the cost of ship time, we want to help scientists to learn as much as they can about the marine environment and share that information with the scientific community, the general public, and policy makers to help make informed decisions about the marine environment.”


Author’s note: the author recently participated in a research expedition to the Bahamas partnering with SeaKeepers, which provided a large yacht to transport research equipment and house the science team.