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Scientists Support International SeaKeepers Society Seminars


At the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, the Yachts International Pavilion welcomed a distinguished scientific panel assembled by The International SeaKeepers Society’s CEO, Dean Klevan, to speak to the yachting community.

SeaKeepers’ primary goal is to provide data collected through remote sensing technology to the global scientific community. It does so by raising funds to build sturdy and reliable monitoring units (which can be equipped with a variety of sensors) and install them on private yachts, commercial ships or buoys.

Science can be a very dry subject, particularly when it comes to data. But meticulous collection and analysis over long periods of time are necessary steps in solving scientific enigmas. The panel answered questions from concerned mariners and yacht owners.

What role do the oceans play in the global climate? What does all the trash and plastics pooled in giant circular patterns (called ocean gyres) do to our marine environment? What do oil spills do to the food chain, and how do hydrocarbons affect human health?

Mark Luther, associate professor at the University of South Florida, Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, Roni Avissar, dean of the Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and Fabien Cousteau, ocean advocate and filmmaker, spoke on a number of these subjects.

Intuition and empirical data can’t explain changes in fish behavior, the formation of hurricanes or help assess consequences of oil spills.

Read’s team, which is based in Miami and has the arduous task of predicting the next big weather event, uses models and scientific data to help forecast the birth, intensity and course of hurricanes and typhoons. It is one of the very few institutions flying airplanes into hurricanes to collect atmospheric data, and does so only in the Atlantic area. Elsewhere, scientists have to rely primarily on satellite and surface data. This is not exact science, but building a database ensures forecasters improve their chances of accurately predicting the next big weather event, saving lives in the process.

Of late, many have expressed concerns that plastics left to deteriorate in the environment (and there are tons in the ocean) are leaching chemicals able to cause DNA mutation. Data is scarce. “The first step is to design an observation system, so it can be analyzed from a biological, physical and chemical point of view. That is why things like SeaKeepers are so important. We need the data,” Avissar said.

Avissar, who spent years in the Amazon studying the effects of deforestation and was one of the first scientists to use a specially equipped helicopter to collect environmental data, also said similar remote sensing technology could help with conservation and management of fisheries, which currently rely primarily on speculation and anecdotal experience.

Luther, interviewed for a previous Yachts International article (see November 2010, pg. 59), has been tracking oil in the Gulf of Mexico since the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. He said there is a shortage of data collection points over water. “There are large areas of the ocean where we don’t have measurements.”

Since its creation in 1998, SeaKeepers has been able to establish a bit more than 90 autonomous systems on private vessels, commercial ships, scientific research vessels or fixed platforms. The system is reliable, said Luther, who heads the USF’s calibration lab where the SeaKeepers units are sent for regular maintenance. The units are relatively easy to install and reliable, thanks to proper filter and anti-fouling agents that prevent bubbles or biological materials from disturbing the sensitive scientific instruments. The vessel does not need to be huge. Recently, a unit was installed on a 22’ open fisherman cruising the Tampa estuary. The biggest challenge, Luther said, is to be able to expand the number of units and availability of sensors to answer the scientific community’s needs.

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