Indian Ocean Concept Cruise
Over the course of six months, eight scientists from twelve universities around the world sailed 6500 nautical miles from Cape Town to Singapore aboard S/Y Indigo V. We established the first ocean health baseline in the Indian Ocean, sailing across some of the least understood waters on the globe and reported our findings to our fellow scientists and to the media alike.
Cape Town to Mauritius
The Southern Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is home to 45 percent of the worlds’ fisheries an brings in catches of 7 million tons of fisher per year, or 8 percent of total world fish population. Climate change is arguably the most significant threat to the future of the Indian Ocean biodiversity, human well-being and the global economy across the member stake-holders. Climate change has the potential to cause severe impacts on vital ecosystem services by altering the microscopic biodiversity at the base of the marine food chain. But the lack of datasets describing long-term microbial community dynamics is a critical gap that hinders our ability to predict potential climate impacts.
During our cruise, we will be sampling The Southern Indian Ocean, whose role also extends to capturing approximately 30% of atmospheric carbon uptake. These ecosystem services are critically balanced and are amongst the most susceptible planetary features to future changes in climate. The metagenomic approach employed by Indigo V allows, for the first time will capture snapshots of structure and function of the microbial community as a whole and correlate it with environmental forcing factors.
Mauritius to Maldives
Pristine Coral Atolls
We were the first ‘research vessel’ to be awarded microbial sampling rights in the Chagos Archipelago / British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Chagos is unique in that is is completely uninhabited, except for Diego Garcia. On 1 April 2010, the British government established the Chagos Archipelago as the world’s largest marine reserve. At 640,000 km2, it is larger than the country of France or the state of California.
It doubled the total area of environmental no take zones worldwide. The protection of the marine reserve will be guaranteed for the next five years thanks to the financial support of the Bertarelli Foundation.
We examined the quality of the marine microbiome in this preserved and untouched region with samples from outside the Marine Protected Area and evaluating any differences or compromised communities. Our results will be published in scientific peer-reviewed journals.
Maldives to Phuket
Impact of Shipping on the Oceans
Our scientific objective for this leg of the cruise is to evaluate the impacts of shipping lanes on the marine microbiome. During our sail from the Maldives to Phuket we cross one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, running from Sri Lanka to Phuket. We ran sampling transect directly across the shipping land, sampling waters from ‘clean’ waters outside the shipping channel to across the middle of the shipping lane. Ships leave traces of iron and other metals that are not always abundant in seawater, especially in the tropics.
These metals (or the lack of them) are often limiting factors to the growth of ocean microbes and can have an impact on the ability of microbes to photosynthesize. This affects their ability fix carbon and produce oxygen. By comparing these samples to those taken just outside the shipping lane we can identify how iron impacts the oceans.
Phuket to Singapore
Mangroves and Coastal Fisheries
During this leg of our voyage, we sailed (motored, mostly) down Malacca Straight and onto Singapore Straight. The Straights are some of the most important shipping lanes in the world, linking major Asian economies with the rest of the world. It’s incredibly crowded. About a quarter of the world’s oil passes through the Straight. It is also a critically important coastal fishery for SE Asian markets.
The Straights are rich in fish because of the discharge of rivers from the surrounding areas, carrying rich nutrients into the waters. Mangroves forests are also extensive and located on both sides of the Straights, totalling about 110,000 ha. Fish production is estimated to reach 265,000 tons a year, with prawns totally 338,000 tons. Mangroves are dependent on healthy microbial populations as are fisheries.