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Weighing Anchor: The Yachting Community Gives Back

 ECO Interview

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An Interview with Richard Snow, President & CEO of The International SeaKeepers Society

What is the DISCOVERY Yachts Program?

For this program, SeaKeepers pairs yacht owners with research and outreach projects, such as scientific expeditions, instrument deployments, and educational outreach events. SeaKeepers staff work closely with yacht owners and crew to coordinate research and outreach activities that reflect the yacht owner’s ocean-related interests. The degree of participation can vary from an afternoon outreach trip with children or even a 10-minute instrument deployment while en route to the next port to week-long expeditions with a team of expert researchers. SeaKeepers collaborates with numerous organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies in order to accomplish its DISCOVERY Yacht missions.

Can you describe the level of impact using a loaned yacht has on the budget of a research team?

The very nature of marine science requires access to the water, but covering the cost of a vessel requires substantial funds. One has to consider vessel charter costs, fuel costs, the crew needed on board, and provisions. Now multiply that by the minimum amount of time the researchers will need to be out on the water to make the trip scientifically worthwhile and the cost can increase rapidly. Having the use of a loaned vessel leaves funding available for other associated research expenses and, often times, significantly increases the research potential. The extra funds may, therefore, be used to increase the amount of samples or trips that are taken, to purchase additional or more effective equipment, and to support the involvement of additional researchers. Ultimately, the quality and extent of the project benefits scientists with the ability to focus the allocation of limited funds on actual research and equipment rather than vessel charter costs.

All of our current DISCOVERY Yacht vessels are provided on loan to SeaKeepers. In the past, we have utilized vessels donated to SeaKeepers through our yacht donation program for expeditions.

What are some of the most interesting projects that have been supported so far?

The SeaKeepers DISCOVERY Yachts Program has included a number of diverse research expeditions. We have done repeated work with the University of Miami’s Shark Research & Conservation Program. Their work involves tagging various shark species and collecting biological samples to further our understanding of shark health, behavior, and distribution patterns. The shark tagging occurs in multiple local and international locations and is also a great opportunity to incorporate outreach. The UM SRC Program already emphasizes the value of education within their own organization so it is an easy fit with SeaKeepers’ outreach efforts. During the tagging process, the scientists and SeaKeepers staff get the on-board guests and crew involved in all components of the field research.

We have also worked with The Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience at the University of Florida conducting genomic sequencing of planktonic organisms. The work involves the collection of plankton species whose genomes can be analyzed directly on the vessel. This quick turnaround is key because it permits accurate data to be collected without the risk of tissue degradation during the shipping of collected samples back to a land-based lab. The trawls are particularly exciting for everyone on board because there are new and unidentified species collected regularly. We are working with this research group to sample biodiversity in all the world’s oceans. This research project also has the potential for major human impacts in regards to the biomedical field. Many of the organisms sampled have unique traits and the ability to quickly regenerate tissues and neurons, an ability that interests Alzheimer’s researchers.

Part of the SeaKeepers DISCOVERY Yachts Program involves instrument deployments. We currently work with the Global Drifter Program and Argo to deploy instruments. This program has been incredibly successful and by deploying standardized, internationally recognized instruments, SeaKeepers vessels are assisting these worldwide programs with the collection of publicly accessible data from remote locations around the world. However, instrument deployment is only one part of the DISCOVERY Yachts Program. We have found that putting researchers on board vessels not only greatly helps the scientists in conducting their research, but it also provides unique and memorable opportunities for owners and their crews. If these expeditions can leave lasting impressions, as they often do, then everyone wins—marine research advances, knowledge and awareness increases, and a greater appreciation for the marine environment develops.

How many vessels are part of your fleet and what are their overall capabilities?

Currently, we have 23 DISCOVERY Yacht vessels in our fleet, ranging from smaller tenders to large super yachts. Because each research project is different and has various requirements, the wide range of available vessels is beneficial for supporting our diverse array of expeditions. Smaller vessels are ideal for coastal research and quick outings due to their shallow draft and easy maneuverability. Larger vessels provide more long-term research opportunities so that scientists can use them as a base for extended overnight expeditions in locations that are less accessible. This also permits scientists to stay on site and complete a significant amount of research without having to spend time and funds going back and forth between accommodations on land and their project site.

What do the vessel owners gain from participating?

Most importantly, they contribute to science and outreach concerning the well-being of our oceans. Our members believe that the best way to protect the environment is to protect the world’s oceans and this allows them to make an impact toward finding real-world solutions to the problems now plaguing our seas.

Furthermore, vessel owners who generously donate time on their yachts to the SeaKeepers DISCOVERY Yachts Program may qualify for tax benefits to the extent of the law and will be honored at SeaKeepers events, featured on the SeaKeepers website, and recognized for their research and conservation efforts in the SeaKeepers newsletter

Researchers (in orange) measure the length and girth of a shark. Researcher (in green) uses a portable ultrasound to determine whether the shark is pregnant. Researcher (in blue) monitors the pump that is supplying fresh seawater into the shark’s mouth and through its gills to make sure it is receiving plenty of oxygen. Diver in the water films the entire thing. Photo credit: SeaKeepers..

Researchers (in orange) measure the length and girth of a shark. Researcher (in green) uses a portable ultrasound to determine whether the shark is pregnant. Researcher (in blue) monitors the pump that is supplying fresh seawater into the shark’s mouth and through its gills to make sure it is receiving plenty of oxygen. Diver in the water films the entire thing. Photo credit: SeaKeepers.

If a particular research topic is near to a yacht owner’s heart, can they decide to support research in that area?

The goal of these expeditions is not only to accomplish marine research, but also to get members of the community excited about marine conservation. One of the first questions we ask yacht owners is what are their marine-related interests. Some owners approach us with specific interests, and we are able to match them with applicable projects. Other times, we present current projects and they select whichever is most appealing. The goal is for the expeditions to be enjoyable for everyone involved, and the more interested the vessel owners are, the more likely they are to learn from the ongoing research and continue to participate. These expeditions also provide scientists with a great opportunity to talk about their work with an attentive and personal audience.

Do the yacht captains come with the vessel?

If a vessel has its own yacht captain and crew, they are on board during the expeditions to run the vessel. If the vessel does not already have a captain or licensed master, SeaKeepers works with the owner to acquire one for the expedition.

How has the thaw between the U.S. and Cuba impacted activities?

SeaKeepers E3 Cuba Experience: Ecology, Environment & Education offers a blend of activities covering these three vital areas of focus while actively engaging with Cuban people and scientists. SeaKeepers recognizes the need to protect the Cuban marine and coastal ecosystem and to preserve Marine Protected Areas. Over 20% of Cuba is already protected, including a significant portion of its waters. To this end, SeaKeepers aims to advance and support the efforts of scientists in Cuba through a collaborative agenda.

The SeaKeepers Program is designed for interested parties to participate in 5-plus day agendas using their own yachts or charter yachts. These agendas are guided by a SeaKeepers itinerary that provides a fruitful exchange for learning opportunities to inland and coastal points of interest.

The improvement of Cuba-U.S. relations has increased the number of private vessels traveling to Cuba and, therefore, provides SeaKeepers with the resources needed to assist the marine science community in Cuba.

The yacht Penny Mae was used for a shark tagging research project as part of the SeaKeepers DISCOVERY Yachts Program. In this photo, Penny Mae crew use their on-board crane to lower the custom-made shark tagging platform into the water for use. Photo credit: SeaKeepers.

The yacht Penny Mae was used for a shark tagging research project as part of the SeaKeepers DISCOVERY Yachts Program. In this photo, Penny Mae crew use their on-board crane to lower the custom-made shark tagging platform into the water for use. Photo credit: SeaKeepers.

You have recently expanded to Asia. Can you fill us in on what you have planned in that region?

SeaKeepers Asia was established in April 2016 under the leadership of Board Member Julian Chang. This expansion followed recent visits to Singapore by the President of SeaKeepers, Richard Snow, which revealed the heightened awareness of the need for marine conservation within Singapore, among yacht owners, and amid the general public in the surrounding region. Building upon established international programming, the focus in Asia is on drawing attention to the current situation of our oceans in order to build a sense of appreciation and commitment to protect, conserve, and restore. We have already held one educational event on board a super yacht in Singapore and have plans for two additional trips this summer.

Your organization has committed to the arts as a means of communicating ocean issues. Tell us more about these programs.

DISCOVERY Art is the creative component of SeaKeepers programming. The works created allow the general public to personally experience and value the oceans, regardless of their proximity to the coast. DISCOVERY Art encourages public awareness of ocean research through the eyes of the artists who are inspired by the ocean. The DISCOVERY Art Program includes the SeaKeepers Featured Artist of the Year and Drifter Art. SeaKeepers selects a Featured Artist of the Year whose work is influenced by marine life, science, or ocean conservation. The Featured Artist of the Year creates custom-made awards for SeaKeepers recognition events, such as Bal de la Mer and Founders’ Dinner.

Our Changing Seas III by Courtney Mattison, the SeaKeepers Featured Artist of the Year for 2015.

Our Changing Seas III by Courtney Mattison, the SeaKeepers Featured Artist of the Year for 2015.

A drifter designed by the artist is also displayed at an event to raise awareness of SeaKeepers Drifters. The artist is invited to attend SeaKeepers signature events to build relationships with SeaKeepers and promote their work. Drifter Art is a strand of the DISCOVERY Art program. SeaKeepers Drifter shells are painted and embellished by local artists and the SeaKeepers Featured Artist of the Year. Drifter Art encourages public awareness of ocean research. SeaKeepers 2014 Moon Over Miami featured artistic designs on multiple drifter pieces to raise awareness about the SeaKeepers Drifter instrument. Drifter Art is never deployed, and pieces can be purchased by private individuals. Drifter Art is displayed at various SeaKeepers events, boat shows, marinas, and yacht management and charter offices.

For more information, visit seakeepers.org.

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