Volvo Ocean race helps to turn tide on plastics


PHOTO: Skipper Dee Caffari’s crew on Turn the Tide on Plastic is a mixed, youth-focused team with a strong sustainability message

VETERAN round-the-world sailor, Dee Caffari, has combined her Volvo Ocean race obsession with a deep passion for the ocean in the 2017-18 race by launching a campaign to ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic’ – which the yacht has also been christened.

Britain’s Dee Caffari, skipper of 'Turn the Tide on Plastic', is the only female skipper in this year’s race and the first woman ever to sail solo non-stop around the world in both directions. Caffari’s is a mixed, youth-focused team with a strong sustainability message. The campaign, backed by the principle sustainability partner, 11th Hour racing and the Mirpuri Foundation is dedicated to the issue of ocean health.

SA Plastics met with Dee while she was in Cape Town at the start of the leg of the Volvo Ocean race from Cape Town to Melbourne in Australia.

She explained that her team’s mission is to amplify United Nations Environment’s 'Clean Seas: Turn the Tide on Plastic campaign throughout the eight months of the race. Dee and her crew, sailing under a United Nations flag, have been charged with spreading an important message about ocean health as they race around the world. 

They will gather critical data on ocean health to contribute to scientific research and ocean health monitoring as part of a landmark science programme. 

“It’s really nice to bring all the teams together for a subject that we’re all committed to,” said Dee. “We’re all very passionate about the race’s sustainability focus and ultimately we have to deliver that message as ocean ambassadors.

“As sailors we get to play in this unique playground and we see the impact that plastic pollution is having on ocean health. For that reason, we’re the best people to pass the message on, and regardless of which team we’re racing with, collaboratively, we can all make a very big impact.

“By the time we finish the race, we should have lots of real data that we can use to push our message further, and take to governments and decision makers globally,” she says.

“It’s believed that we only see 1% of the plastic in the ocean – so this is a key measurement, especially in the most remote oceans on the planet,” Dee adds.

Made possible thanks to the support of Volvo Cars and a scientific consortium including NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), JCOMMOPS (UNESCO-IOC), GEOMAR and SubCtech, the science programme consists of three areas of research, micro-plastics monitoring, collecting meteorological data and launching drifter buoys.


Micro-plastics monitoring

Dee’s crew on Turn the Tide on Plastic carry ground-breaking instruments on board to test salinity, partial pressure of CO2, dissolved CO2 and Chlorophyll-a (algae) directly in the seawater around them. These key metrics for ocean health will be logged in addition to test trials for micro plastics to create a complete snapshot of the world's oceans. Dee explained that a system on her yacht scoops water from about 1 metre under the hull into ‘test tubes’ and through three filters every 15 hours while the yacht is sailing.

“We are looking at PH levels and CO2 levels that are intrinsically linked, as well as salinity, temperature and chlorophyll levels and the micro-plastics levels. It is the latter that has never been done before and will produce some raw data that will be our reference data going forwards. If we can get more vessels to carry this equipment we will be able to see the rate of change and the danger level we are at with our world's ocean health,” she explained.

“Unlike most research to date, that collects water at the surface level to test for micro-plastics, we are looking at water through an inlet used for our water maker, so about 1 metre below the surface. It collects water and runs it through three layers of filters. These filters are changed every two days and sealed. The GPS logs exactly where this data is from and the filters are given in at the end of each leg for testing in the labs onshore.


Meteorological data and drifter buoys

All of the boats will send 36 data points back to race control at race HQ in Alicante every 10 seconds. This information covers temperature, barometric pressure, wind strength and direction. This data will be passed on to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts. This data will contribute to more accurate weather forecasts and climate models in order to better understand the weather tomorrow and climate change in the coming decades.

During the most isolated legs in the race, all seven boats will carry scientific-drifter buoys that will be launched in the most scientifically interesting areas along the route. These floating sensors are equipped with satellite communications equipment to transmit information on ocean composition and currents.