News from our partners at Hello Ocean: Filmmakers Teresa and Ben Carey invite you to join a scientific odyssey to document ocean acidification and map ocean noise pollution.
Award winning sailors and filmmakers, Teresa and Ben Carey, are taking the lead in an exciting new cooperative venture between the sailing and scientific communities. They are partnering with The Ocean Foundation, Dr. Nina Bednarsek and Swift Engineering to create a citizen science project in which ocean going vessels can take part collecting vital data that will help document the state of the world’s oceans. Their project, called Hello Ocean, launches this summer.
Ocean acidification was recently cited among the top five research interests of ocean scientists worldwide. Ocean acidification is the continuous decrease in the pH of the ocean, caused by carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It is believed to have a range of harmful consequences that include coral bleaching, killing algae, and harming other animal life. Ocean acidification is a topic of interest to Ben and Teresa, so it was a logical next step for them to team up with Swift Engineering, a California based engineering firm. Swift Engineering is designing sensors for their vessel Rocinante. The collaboration is one starting point in Ben and Teresa’s project called Hello Ocean.
Hello Ocean is a project of The Ocean Foundation a 501c3 and has two critical parts. First, it is a multi-media outreach series with the goal of bringing ocean science into the mainstream conversation. Second, it is a citizen science ocean acidification study using recreational boaters as the volunteer citizen scientists.
The oceans are the last truly wild frontier on planet earth. Much of them are unexplored and undocumented. Often, the expense of hiring a research vessel to conduct data collection is too costly to be beneficial. Therefore, scientists are increasingly relying on volunteers to collect data for them. Citizen science is scientific research that utilizes volunteer, amateur scientists to collect data in the real world. The volunteers choose to participate in citizen science studies for a variety of reasons. Many of them find that their vacation or daily lives are enriched by participating in real scientific research that could lead to better protection or management of our natural resources.
“The media and the research go hand-in-hand,” says Ben Carey. “Scientists who study the ocean need more ways to collect data. What better resource is there than recreational boaters? Our goal is to create media (videos and podcasts) that will appeal to boaters and fuel their interest in ocean conservation and science. I’m confident we can find plenty of sailors who want to participate in the ocean acidification research project.”
They are teaming up with a biological oceanographer Dr. Nina Bednarsek to do a baseline study of ocean acidification’s effects on biomass. This fall and winter they are conducting the pilot study where they will test the equipment and methods. Once they refine the study, their goal is to expand this into an opportunity for recreational boaters. As citizen scientists and volunteers, they will be provided the technology to collect data with. They will also be in contact with Ben, Teresa, and Dr. Bednarsek via Google Hangouts, blogs, and videos.
“We need a waterfront of knowledgeable people who can see changes in our ocean. This “Sailor Scientist” project will develop that while simultaneously contributing to the scientific understand of ocean acidification – a critical and timely topic in ocean research,” says Teresa.
Belize possesses one of the most biodiverse and pristine marine habitats in all of the Western Caribbean, however little is known about the marine mammals that inhabit this region. This region has been extensively exposed to seismic testing, and recently, legislation permitting deep-sea oil mining was nearly approved. Coupled with a lack of baseline data on marine mammals in this region, anthropogenic activity poses significant threats to marine ecosystems throughout Belize. Working with scientist Eric Ramos, the aim of our study is to produce baseline estimates of the abundance, distribution, and behavior of cetaceans in the oceanic waters off the coast of Belize and engage the recreational boating community to participate in data collection.
Citizen scientist projects are a great way to learn about the natural world. Ben and Teresa Carey are long-time cruising sailors. Even though they return to many of the same places, their outlook on sailing has changed.
“When I first started sailing I did so to escape the so-called real world and live life at a different pace. Now I want to engage in the world in a meaningful way. I try to plan each voyage with a specific purpose other than just sailing.”
Teresa and Ben divide their cruising time between providing sail-training opportunities aboard their boat and creating ocean conservation media. Last winter, while in Panama preparing their boat for crossing the Caribbean Sea, they filmed at an indigenous Kuna village. What is unique about this village is that it is home to one of the largest nesting leatherback sea turtle populations, a species that is critically endangered in some parts of the world. Teresa and Ben went to Armila to learn from a local scientist and the community leaders, about the leatherbacks and the local culture.
After their time in Panama, Ben and Teresa sailed to Maine. During that passage they collected seawater samples which they delivered via sailboat to Dr. Abby Borrows, a research scientist in Stonington, Maine. Dr. Borrows is studying the extent of micro-plastic in the ocean. Most of her data collection comes from citizen scientist volunteers like Ben and Teresa. Recent research shows that micro-plastic is present in every ocean and every body of water on the planet. The extent to which it pollutes our oceans and waterways is a growing concern for ocean scientists since plastic can have severe environmental consequences as it carries toxic chemicals and can never break down.
Spreading the word about critical ocean issues has been a passion for Ben and Teresa that began with a 2011 voyage where their voyage plan was to sail north until they saw an iceberg.
“I simply wanted to see an iceberg because I had never seen one before. We ended up seeing a piece of the Petermann Ice Island, a record-setting Greenland iceberg. In the process, I learned more than I expected about polar ice, climate, and my relationship to it all,” says Teresa.
That voyage turned into a feature film called One Simple Question, produced in partnership with Doctrine Creative, a Florida production company. The film premiered at the Blue Ocean Film Festival in November and was released in March for screenings nation-wide.
Ben and Teresa are currently running a crowd-funding campaign to help them jump-start the Hello Ocean project. Sailors and scientists alike, as well as anyone concerned about the future of our oceans, are asked to help support this project. Hello Ocean will notify all interested parties of progress toward the ultimate goal of getting recreational boaters the equipment and instruction they need to take part and make a difference. To make a contribution or find out more about Hello Ocean, visit their Indie Gogo campaign http://igg.me/at/helloocean/x/11072290. To find out more about their film visit simplequestionmovie.com.
Featured image: Hello Ocean founders Teresa and Ben Carey. Photo © Chris Rodriguez