The Indigo Project
Home of the OMEGA — Ocean Microbiome Environmental Global Assessment — Index,
where we track ocean health on the most fundamental level.
What Is This All About?
Can you believe that in the year 2017, we still know very little about the oceans? Yet, the oceans provide clean air, food and water for all of mankind. A failing ocean ecosystem not only threatens life, but the livelihood of millions of people around the world who depend on the oceans.
In the last fifty years, we have seen the demise of 90% of the big fish, 50% of the coral reefs, and the rise of ocean acidification, desertification and dead zones. While these effects on marine fauna can be readily seen, measured and monitored, the biggest threat is to the most important lifeforms in the ocean: the marine microbiome.
On a changing planet, the fate of the most important life support system we have is mostly unknown.
But with your help, we can change that.
The Marine Microbiome
The marine microbiome is made up very small plankton that collectively fix more carbon than the Amazon rain forest, provide half of the oxygen that we breathe, and provides the very base of the food web.
Microbes are also the first to respond to changes in the ocean environment. Because of this sensitivity, we can liken them to the proverbial ‘canary in the coalmine’. Without a healthy marine microbiome, the food web would collapse and drastically change the levels of atmospheric oxygen.
Though tiny, marine plankton are the most abundant organisms in the ocean, yet they are the least understood. The good news is that we pioneered citizen sailing oceanography as a way to quickly understand ocean health on the most important biological level.
(Figure courtesy of Seymour, Stoker & Gorrick)
Data Collection Bottleneck
Lack of data is the key issue that limits our ability to understand the marine microbiome. As uncertainty surrounds the fate of marine eco-systems, we must rest on our ability to understand the response of the marine microbiome to natural and anthropogenic challenges.
However, using traditional research vessels to collect enough data is not possible. We estimate that if one research vessel went to sea continuously for one year, it would cost at least $15 million for the vessel, crew and analysis. Despite covering an enormous area – 9.7 million km2 – it would only be able to sample 3% of the ocean surface.
Twenty vessels would be required to effectively cover the region between both tropical lines. The costs would exceed $300 million dollars per year. This would also exclude high latitude regions, and the carbon footprint would be enormous.
This is where you come in…
Citizen Sailing Oceanography
In 2013 we set out to pioneer citizen sailing oceanography as a way to better understand ocean health. As we sailed across the Indian Ocean, we developed the protocols for other yachts and published our concept paper in PLOS Biology, The Common Oceanographer: Crowdsourcing the Collection of Oceanographic Data. Everyday there are thousands of vessels that cruise the world’s oceans on long established routes — world cruising routes — dictated by predominant wind currents. So sailors today are sailing on the same exact route that Christopher Columbus used when he discovered the New World! We can put reliable and sustainable data collection into the hands of the blue water cruiser, transforming ordinary yachts into in situ marine microbe monitoring platforms, helping us understand the world’s oceans in a comprehensive way.
Citizen sailing oceanographers collect robust plankton data sets that has never before been possible, leading to unprecedented advances in ocean health and significantly broadening the scope of our existing knowledge base.
Join the Adventure – Become a Citizen Oceanographer!
If you are planning an open ocean cruise, you hold the keys to helping us break new ground. We send you a plankton data collection kit, that enables you to collect plankton from a number of ‘stations’ during your cruise. You’ll learn field-based scientific skills, including sample collection and preservation of biological materials, and will take a variety of measurements including temperature and salinity.
Participation is easy and free!
To register your interest, simply fill in the contact form below, or contact us directly: rachelle at indigovexpeditions dot org
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the ultimate purpose?
By vastly increasing our number of observations, we can construct detailed baselines that can be used to identify changes in the ocean environment over time. This will lead the way for the scientific management and preservation of the oceans and coastal ecosystems. We will also be able to early indicators of potentially major declines.
What happens to the data?
We abide by the principle that all collected data is considered part of global public goods. All of our collected data by ‘citizen oceanographers’ is analyzed, findings are reported in peer reviewed scientific journals and then deposited into gene banks such as NCBI and iMicrobe, a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation funded project. Since each dataset release will be identified by unique identifiers that will include the names of sailing vessel involved in the collection, we hope that data users can be educated to accurately cite the source of pre-publication data, including the version of the dataset. Data users will be encouraged to contact Indigo V Expeditions to discuss publication plans in cases of uncertainty.
What measurements are taken?
As a volunteer citizen oceanographer, you will be collecting the following parameters per sampling station:
- microbiome / plankton sample
You will also record the latitude and longitude of where each sample was taken, along with some observations of the sea state.
Who can become a citizen oceanographer?
Anyone planning a cruise on the high seas! We do abide by the Nagoya Protocol, which means that we do not take any biological information from coastal zones within 200 nautical miles from land. If you’re planning on sailing further abroad, please get in touch!
Where in the vertical water column are the samples taken?
The max depth is around 2 meters deep.