A Different Kind of Privilege

By Charlotte Braungardt

The ocean has shaped this planet and the ecosystems upon which life depends and regulates the climate. Nevertheless, the waste products of civilisation and unsustainable resource exploitation have inflicted massive change, from over-fertilisation and coral reef damage in coastal regions, to over-fishing and ocean acidification on a global scale. In this context, in 2019, Seas Your Future, the trading name of the charity Adventure Under Sail, invited me to support and shape an initiative that embraces the spirit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Seas Your Future offers young people potentially life-changing experiences through sail training and marine science projects on their tall ship Pelican of London. This learning environment is characterised by adventure and challenge and encourages personal and professional development, including equality, inclusiveness, resilience, responsibility and teamwork.

I joined Pelican of London in August 2019, piloting ocean science on a sail training voyage as representative of the University of Plymouth, with colleagues from University College London and the Natural History Museum partaking. Using the tall ship and its tender as platforms, the young scientists studied how physical properties, such as pH, temperature, salinity and pressure change between surface and bottom waters and carried out surveys that tracked the concentrations of nutrients from the estuaries into Plymouth Sound and the English Channel. We investigated microplastics and plankton in the water and studied and collected litter on the beaches. Some of the most transformative experiences were encounters with dolphins hunting shoals of fish at night and listening to their communication with hydrophones.

Photo 1 CB SYF 1Pelican of London in UK waters during the Darwin200.com circumnavigation of the British Isles, summer 2020. Photo credit: Dr Rohan Holt at CloudBase Productions Ltd.

Photo 2 CB SYFYoung crew on board getting a rosette ready for deployment to take water samples for nutrient analysis and measure salinity, temperature, depth, fluorescence and pH in the water column. Photo credit: Jamie Haigh at Shield Media Services Ltd.

Photo 3 CB SYFYoung crew working to set sail and spotting dolphins below. Photo credit: Dr Rohan Holt at CloudBase Productions Ltd.

In workshops, we evaluated the research results in the context of natural processes, environmental quality standards and the impact of human activity. For example, high concentrations of phosphate, nitrate and microplastics near sewage treatment works diminished with distance from their source in the estuary out to sea through dispersion and dilution. We explored how physical, biological and human systems are connected and how our personal consumer choices and behaviours, directly and indirectly, affect nature. Most importantly, we considered what we can do to live more sustainable lives.

A questionnaire at the end of the voyage captured the outcomes for our young scientists. All of us were part of the voyage crew and daily watch system, which was an experience relished by almost all (93%). Also highly valued were the scientific sessions, specifically gaining experience, knowledge and understanding through hands-on practical work. The voyage also inspired the young participants to pursue careers in the marine (67%) and/or environmental sector (47%). Better than these statistics, the video below sums up the motivation and views of the ship’s crew, scientists and young people during that voyage.

Impressions from a sail-training and science voyage on the Pelican of London in August 2019. Video credit: Jamie Haigh at Shield Media Ltd.

Photo 4 CB SYFHelming the Pelican of London. Photo credit: Dr Rohan Holt at CloudBase Productions Ltd.

Proven engagement and success in 2019 meant that in 2020, when the covid-19 pandemic prevented the organisation Darwin200.com from embarking on a global voyage, chartering Pelican of London was their choice for an eight-week circumnavigation of the British Isles. The synergy between Darwin200’s drive to conduct an ocean health check and Seas Your Future’s intention to apply the learnings from the 2019 pilot led to a much-expanded science programme, once again in collaboration with the University of Plymouth.

From Southampton along England’s south coast, through the Irish Sea to cruising the Hebrides and rounding John O’Groats, then down the North Sea to the Thames, young scientists on board undertook systematic meteorological observations, microplastic surveys, and large fish, marine mammal and sea bird surveys, with sometimes surprising results. Who would have thought that we would see nearly 70 sunfish in unusually large groups or witness gannets using plastic litter as nesting material? The data were submitted to the Met Office, Marine Conservation Society and Sea Watch Foundation. Contributing to these databases provided a real sense of making a valuable contribution through citizen science, as highlighted by Joe Ellison in Video 2.

Marine mammal and big fish surveys aboard the Pelican of London during the Darwin200 circumnavigation of the British Isles in July to September 2020. Video credit: Joe Ellison, Rohan Holt, Stuart Trowell and Lorimer MacAndrew.

Photo 5 CB SYFGannet colony on Bass Rock visited during the Darwin200 voyage. Photo credit: Dr Rohan Holt at CloudBase Productions Ltd.

Photo 6 CB SYFSeal resting on harbour structure in Stornoway. Photo credit: Dr Rohan Holt at CloudBase Productions Ltd.

Microplastics in the water and on board the Pelican of London during the Darwin200 circumnavigation o the British Isles in July to September 2020. Video credit: Shaolin Casey, Rohan Holt, Stuart Trowell and Lorimer MacAndrew.

The science projects were a journey of discovery in themselves. Generating their own data allowed the young scientists to deepen their understanding. For example, although mainstream in the media, the term ‘microplastics’ was still an abstract concept, but after tallying half a million microfibres in the outflow of the ship’s washing machine, Shaolin Casey communicated in Video 3 how powerful hands-on science is in highlighting our personal impact on environmental quality and our responsibility to implement change.

Dr Rohan Holt brought life below water closer by filming his dives in kelp forests and along sea walls and bringing specimens back for studies on deck.

Photo 7 CB SYFCushion star in its natural environment. Photo credit: Dr Rohan Holt at CloudBase Productions Ltd.

Photo 8 CB SYFPlastic rope caught on sea urchin in Scottish waters Photo credit: Dr Rohan Holt at CloudBase Productions Ltd.

Photo 9 CB SYFA colony of hydroids on kelp. Photo credit: Dr Rohan Holt at CloudBase Productions Ltd.

We also installed a wind turbine on board after sailing through offshore wind power installations and running a fun turbine design competition.

Photo 10 CB SYFPelican sailing past one of many offshore wind power arrays off the British coast. Photo credit: Dr Rohan Holt at CloudBase Productions Ltd.

Mustering for day and night watches, helping in the galley, and undertaking science experiments on a rolling and pitching ship, was a personal challenge that required resourcefulness, stamina and resilience. For me, it was a real privilege to guide and coach the young people on this voyage of fun and adventure, discovery and reflection, connecting with nature and personal growth. Our experience provides a compelling case for combining sail training with science and this is the path Seas Your Future has chosen. Over the coming years, Seas Your Future plans to develop sail training vessels as platforms that permanently carry scientific instrumentation, suitable for the generation of data that will serve scientists, conservation organisations and government to monitor ecosystems and fisheries, model weather and coastal processes and predict climate change.

With its scientific outlook, Seas Your Future addresses the UN Sustainable Development Goals Life Below Water and Climate Action. Through learning and personal growth, it works towards UN SDGs Good Health and Well-being, Quality Education and Responsible Consumption and Production. Sponsorship of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and ‘all-female’ voyages, will contribute to the UN SDGs Reduced Inequality and Gender Equality. I am looking forward to accompanying Seas Your Future on this journey.


Seas Your Future is the trading name of Adventure Under Sail, a registered charity (1124276) who own the tall ship Pelican of London. Their programmes promote personal growth through sail training, marine career advice and offer hands-on ocean science and environmental activities. For more information please click here.

This article is part of an online series dedicated to the UN Ocean Decade. One story will be published each week that is related to initiatives, new knowledge, partnerships, or innovative solutions that are relevant to the following seven Ocean Decade outcomes.Access the special digital issue dedicated to the Ocean Decade here.

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