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ARC Sailors Become Adventure Scientists

Crews on board more than 100 boats sailing with the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) are set to collect 600 ocean water samples from a 602,000-square-nautical mile area in the Atlantic Ocean to aid research into the ocean dispersal of microplastics. The operation to turn sailors in to scientists is being run in co-operation with the Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) group, which acts as a bridge between the worlds of science and adventure travel.

As the ARC fleet is sailing from East to West across the Atlantic and the boats are uniquely placed to gather a large quantity of water samples from a broad swathe of the ocean in a controlled manner. Each of the 100 participating crews will collect 6 water samples at different points of their voyage, labelled and logged ready for analysis ashore later. A detailed collection protocol and training have been given to the volunteer crews to ensure that the ARC ocean samples are not contaminated by other sources. “It’s huge for science, for really getting a picture of this part of the Atlantic,” said ASC partner scientist Abby Barrows. “This will give us the fuller picture of how plastic concentrations may or may not fluctuate closer to land and in the middle of the ocean.”

ASC has provided Abby, an independent researcher, with samples from places including Scandinavia, the Antarctic Peninsula, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and West Africa—places she describes as “under-sampled and under-studied.”

After arriving in Saint Lucia in mid-December, the ARC boats will disperse from throughout the Caribbean and beyond; some through the Panama Canal to the Pacific, many to the Caribbean through the Azores and back to Europe, and others to South America. Crews will be encouraged to continue their sampling efforts as they sail onwards.

I’m really excited … that there is potential for sampling all over the world because of the connections they’ve made with these ARC sailors.” Abby said.

Speaking in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, before the start of ARC 2014, Jeremy Wyatt of rally organisers World Cruising Club commented on the importance of the project to the sailors taking part. “Transocean sailing gives us a window in to the life of the oceans that few on land get to share, and so we were not surprised at the response to the appeal for volunteer samplers from within the ARC fleet. World Cruising Club is delighted to facilitate and support this project, which strikes such a cord with all sailors.”

Once the boats arrive in Saint Lucia, the samples will be collected and sent onto the laboratory in the USA for analysis, with the results shared back to the ARC crews in the New Year.

Collecting water samples  Collecting water samples
 Collecting water sample mid-Atlantic on board Vagaris in ARC 2014

About Microplastics

Although microplastic particles are smaller than five millimetres in size, they potentially pose a risk to the ocean environment and human health via the marine food chain.

Ocean researchers have found them in nearly every litre of ocean water they have examined, from places including Maine, Alaska, Argentina, Thailand and Antarctica. Toxins including DDT, BPA and pesticides adhere to the particles. Ingested by small aquatic life, the toxins biomagnify as they move up the food chain, accumulating in birds, sea life and humans.

Microplastics have several sources: they weather from debris such as drink bottles and shopping bags; they are laundered from nylon clothing; and they wash down the drain with many common cosmetics and toothpastes.

Collecting water samples worldwide, ASC is studying the sources, composition and distribution of this pollution to assist in measures to combat the problem.

About Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation

Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation aim to mobilize the outdoor community to gather and share targeted scientific data, driving conservation around the world.