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Two Sailors on New Voyage of Exploration

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 activities that volunteers are asked to do vary. They could be photographing whale tails and recording their position, or collecting soil samples for lab study.


Science in the media is on a significant decline. 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 newly-purchased 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. The leatherbacks thrive in Armila because the Kunas have a strong, spiritual connection to them. 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 worked with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation to collected seawater samples which they delivered via sailboat to Abby Borrows, a research scientist in Stonington, Maine. Abby 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.


Another critical topic for the oceans is ocean acidification. 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 their project called Ocean Courier.


Ocean Courier 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 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 design media that will appeal to boaters and use it fuel their interest in ocean conservation and science. I’m confident from that interest we can find plenty of sailors who want to participate in the ocean acidification research project.”


They are teaming up Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation and biological oceanographer 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 with sensor technology and a net to collect data and samples with. They will also be in contact with Ben, Teresa, and Nina 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.


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.


On June 20 Ben and Teresa are launching a crowdfunding campaign to help them jump-start the Ocean Courier project. You can find out more about the campaign and their film at or


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