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Dr David Glassom from KwaZulu-Natal University was on board Fleur de Passion from Durban to Knysna in November 2018 in the frame of his research on the use of plastic debris by juvenile fish as potential for species migrations or invasions in a time of global change. We met him in Durban in early October when the expedition was invited to participate in a two-day workshop organized by the South African Institute on Environmental Health, with the support of the embassy of Switzerland. And very soon, it appeared that the rest of journey along the West coast of South Africa towards Cape Town would be an interesting opportunity for him to explore further the phenomenon.

As Dr Glassom explains, « the potential of flotsam as vectors for long-distance migration for a variety of sessile organisms is well established. However, there is far less information on fish. Juvenile fish are known to shelter under plastic debris and a number of species have been recorded under debris in waters off Durban using a simple scoop net. Species range shifts or range expansions are already evident as a consequence of rising sea surface temperature due to global warming, and migrations could be facilitated by the availability of debris for shelter and possible nutrition from biofilms growing on the plastic. »

But before he can share initial results, let’s join David on board Fleur de Passion to experiment through his own words his « first trip on a large sailing vessel and one of (his) greatest experiences ».

« I was a bit nervous, as I am known to get seasick at times. But I took tablets for the entire journey and they worked – I felt no sickness at all. Travelling under sail was unique – the motion is completely different from being under engine power. Raising the sails, tacking the ship (no winches or mod-cons, just pulling on the ropes), was like living a boyhood fantasy. Although Pietro (skipper) did not assign me to specific shifts (my main job was cook’s assistant), I did link up with Candy (second mate and scientific coordinator) and Francois (passenger from Geneva) and tried to join their shifts at the helm. Learning to steer the Fleur was quite a steep curve – the first time I tried it, the rest of the crew must have been very confused, we were doing a zig-zag pattern while I tried to figure out the way the ship would respond. Steering under sail for the first time was a whole new learning curve, as keeping the right angle to get the wind in the sails was a bit of a challenge.

The accommodation was comfortable (the boat wasn’t full, so I had a cabin to myself). The food, compliments mainly of Pierre (cook) was fantastic and I found the entire crew really friendly and hospitable, not to mention professional and, even without any sailing experience I could see that they were highly competent. It was great especially to learn the history of the Foundation Pacifique from Pietro, who, it turns out, helped someone I know do research on whales many years ago. Communication was a bit of a problem; most of the crew spoke English, but a few didn’t and my French is non-existent – I did pick up a few words and phrases along the way.

Between Durban and East London, we were a bit far offshore to really see the coast, but from then on we were in view of the coast most of the time. I have never seen that part of the coast from the sea before, so that was also a new experience for me. The last part of the trip was really special – we were close to the coast and the cliffs between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna are really spectacular. Going through the entrance to Knysna lagoon (known as the Knysna Heads), was a bit nerve-wracking, with cliffs on one side, breaking surf on the other and a narrow channel that is just deep enough for the draft of the Fleur. A friendly guy from the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) gave us some helpful guidance. 

We had to periods of sitting at anchor, for a couple of days each – once in the estuary at East London and once in the sea off Plettenberg Bay. These times were a bit frustrating, but made as pleasant as possible by a bit of wildlife / bird watching and they gave me the chance to do some sampling for plastic close to shore. »

At Knysna in late November 2018, David had to leave the boat due his need to back in office. But while on board, he had briefed the crew so that more samplings could be made until Cape Town.

Since its launch from Seville in April 2015, the 20,000 Sounds under the Seas program on ocean noise pollution, in partnership with the Laboratory of Bioacoustic Applications (LAB) of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, ​​continues its harvesting of underwater sounds, be they natural of produced by the human activity (shipping, sonars, oil and gas prospection among others).

In Singapore on 14 March 2018, during the press conference organized on the occasion of the stopover of Fleur de Passion in the City-State, the biologist and engineers Dr Michel André and responsible for the program insisted on the importance of this source of pollution of the oceans and the necessity to tackle this issue urgently.

« Marine noise pollution is recognized today as one of the greatest disrupters of marine ecosystems that threaten the natural balance of the oceans », recalls Dr Michel André and responsible for the 20,000 Sounds Under The Seas program.

« This pollution, little known to the general public because it is invisible and inaudible, at least for human ears, increases with the development of industrial activities at sea and spreads at high speeds in all the corners of the planet. Result: there is no more "end of the ocean" that is spared », explains the French scientist.

« Except maybe between French Polynesia and Australia, where levels of noise were measured in some deep-ocean areas were to be close to natural ambient noise levels, meaning that the contribution from human operations there is minimum and could be defined as the levels that were present in the ocean before its industrialisation. In other words close to pollution zero », he adds.

The situation is totally different in other regions of the globe as on the Great Barrier Reef for example. « Because most of the marine organisms found in coral reefs produce sounds, tracking these specific soundscapes represents one efficient way to monitor and understand possible changes », explains Dr André.

« The 20,000 Sounds Under the Seas program has collected sound recordings at sample stations and is currently comparing its analysis with the heath status of the coral reefs: it is expected that the acoustic monitoring of biodiversity will significantly contribute to understand the magnitude of the damage that this unique ecosystem is facing. »

« Now, that the expedition has entered more industrialized areas, we expect these levels to significantly increase along with the presence of heavy maritime traffic », he concludes.

The French scientist and the crew of Fleur de Passion took advantage of the stopover in Singapore to install on board and test a new recording equipment yet again specifically developed for the 20,000 Sounds Under The Seas program: a yellow delta shape wing some half a meter wide supporting the hydrophone device underneath, and that the boat will taw when navigating.

Using the dinghy as a trawler, a session of tests took place off Singapore in this unique environment made of hundreds of cargo or container ships, tankers and so on anchored of the island.

Some initial results of the program are accessible on http://omexpedition.listentothedeep.com/acoustics/.

The program of monitoring greenhouse gases on the surface of the oceans launched in December 2017 in the Philippines in partnership with the University of Geneva has already identified several strong methane and carbon dioxide emission areas between Mactan and Singapore where the expedition arrived on 13 March 2018. There first preliminary results where presented to the media by Prof. Daniel McGinnis, Head of the Aquatic Physics Group at the University of Geneva and responsible of the program as part of The Ocean Mapping Expedition.

The ambition of The Winds of Change monitoring program for greenhouse gases on the surface of the oceans is to provide the scientific community with unprecedented and reference field data and therefore to contribute to a better understanding of the role of the oceans in the current global warming process. In view of the worrisome evolution of the climate and the resulting ocean acidification, it is becoming increasingly urgent to have baseline data available to revise our concepts on the global carbon cycle. And the least we can say is that it didn’t take long to get its first « exciting » results!

This pioneering program was launched in December 2017 in Mactan, Philippines, in partnership with the University of Geneva on board Swiss sailboat Fleur de Passion in the frame of The Ocean Mapping Expedition. It collected its first real time reference data on methane and carbon dioxide concentrations along the way down to Singapore, where the boat has arrived on 13 March 2018, coming from Puerto Galera, Brunei and Kuching. Through The Winds of Change program, some first « hot spots » were identified, areas with very strong emissions of greenhouse gases deserving as such a closer assessment. 

« The first two months of data received since The Winds of Change was launched in the Philippines are very promising, and revealed exciting findings and features », explains Prof. Daniel McGinnis, Head of the Aquatic Physics Group at the University of Geneva and responsible of the program in partnership with the expedition.

« Methane and carbon dioxide concentrations clearly rise near cities, approaching islands and shallow seas, in other words in areas that are influenced by human activities or experience higher algal growth », he says.

The program has already revealed several emission “hot spots” – areas that would warrant further investigation - e.g. methane was more than 6 times higher than background levels at Mactan where the boat was anchored during her stopover in December-January », adds Prof. McGinnis

« These exciting first results present a huge step forward in the project and the overall issue of global warming, and prove our approach as a very effective method to track atmospheric gases over the sea », he also adds.

To perform The Winds of Change program, 33m-long Fleur de Passion - a former WWII minesweeper from the German Navy now converted into a ketch - is equipped with a ultraportable greenhouse gas analyzer with a sampling port positioned 16 meters above the sea surface on the aft mast and automatically collects methane and carbone dioxide readings every 1 minute. The boat will hence fulfill her mission for the climate until the return of the expedition back to Seville in August 2019.

« The instrument has been functioning very well, and requires little attention and maintenance by the crew of Fleur de Passion », comments Prof. McGinnis. The scientist embarked in early March for the navigation from Kuching to Singapore in order to check the maintenance parameters of the program.

« We are very proud that The Winds of Change monitoring program for greenhouse gases on the surface of the oceans is producing its first field data, contributing therefore to also keep the global warming issue on the agenda, » says Samuel Gardaz, Vice-President for Public Affairs of the Fondation Pacifique, a non-profit organization based in Geneva and initiator of The Ocean Mapping Expedition.

« Such a pioneering program, as a pure initiative of civil society, once again illustrates the potential and interest of a sailboat like Fleur de Passion in terms of scientific research in addition to more conventional oceanographic vessels, » adds Gardaz.

« It provides the opportunity to access essential information at a very large geographical scale to complement that available by satellite so far at a time when the global scientific community is specifically alarmed by the lack of data on this issue », Prof McGinnis says.

As explained by the American scientist, « climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our time and its understanding is a major challenge for the scientific community. In order to be able to effectively reverse the trend, scientists need to have a comprehensive and accurate view of the concentrations of greenhouse gases on the surface of the oceans and to be able to better understand their role not only as reservoirs of such gases, but also as emitters, of emission source. "

« But the oceans and fresh water as a whole emit more greenhouse gases than previously estimated, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), » Prof McGinnis insists. It is therefore urgent to re-evaluate the role of the oceans in the global carbon cycle for a better understanding of global warming issues. »

« A pioneering project such as The Winds of Change aboard the Fleur de Passion sailboat is therefore a necessity to collect in real time and continuously along the way, field data that we lack on greenhouse gases. and to allow science to take a step forward in understanding the role of the oceans in the current global warming process, » he concludes.

In August 2017 in the Salomon islands then in Papua-New Guinea and Indonesia, embark on Fleur de Passion and dive on some of the most stunning underwater spots in the world. Under the supervision of a dive master and the crew of the expedition, get involved in the CoralWatch citizen science program on the state of the health of the corals. And contribute to rising awareness about the challenges reefs are facing due to global warming.

Fleur de Passion is an offshore sailboat. This is why dives should be considered as exploratory dives in an unknown environment with related constraints.

Organization :

  1. Dives are organized under the supervision of a diving instructor in charge of organization and safety.

  2. Divers must bring their own equipment (fins, mask, snorkel, diving suit, regulator and stabilizing jacket) as well as their own parachute.

  3. The boat supplies the tanks and the weights.

  4. A fee of CHF 30.- per dive is charged in addition to the daily CHF 120.- for accommodation on board.

Conditions of dives:

  1. Dives are subject to weather and safety conditions and submitted to the skipper's approval.

  2. Each diver must be in possession of his/her dive certificate and diary and a medical certificate dated less than one year.

  3. Dives are carried out within the limits of the safety curve.

  4. The dinghy can take 4 people to the site.

  5. Diving from the Fleur de Passion is possible but the diver must be able to climb a 2m ladder in a potentially formed sea.

Note : 

No night dives are permitted during shipment.

For more info on the schedule and availabilities, have a look on http://omexpedition.ch/index.php/en/embark

A Swiss sailboat on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Switzerland and Australia, two countries situated poles apart, combining their efforts and their vision of the environmental challenges to work together through their respective civil society for the good of an endangered world heritage. This is «the adventure within the adventure» that will begin on 28 March 2017 in Brisbane when 33-metre ketch Fleur de Passion, the largest sailboat flying the Swiss flag, will put to sea from the capital of Queensland and head north towards this environment existing on borrowed time as part of The Ocean Mapping Expedition. After presenting the CoralWatch project in a previous news, let’s introduce you to the second of the two programs developed with local partners that will start soon.

This new programme, lasting a month from April to May, will be conducted in partnership with the University of Queensland over a specific area of four hundred kilometres between Townsville and Cooktown. Under the leadership of Dr. Chris Roelfsema of the Remote Sensing Research Centre (RSRC), several teams of volunteers will be coming on board successively to map the coral reefs as part of a larger joint project which, besides the University of Queensland, encompasses several other Australian research institutions, namely the Australian Institute for Marine Science (AIMS), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), James Cook University and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

«No comprehensive map of all the vast and diverse habitats on the whole Great Barrier Reef currently exists describing geomorphic zonation (e.g. slope, flat, crest) or benthic community composition (e.g. coral, algae, sand)», explains Dr Chris Roelfsema. «These maps would provide valuable information for monitoring and management to support current bleaching surveys, the Crown of Thorns Starfish Eradication Program, marine park zonation design and day-to-day management of the GBR. These types of map have not been produced due to lack of resources and suitable approaches for mapping the 3,000 extensive and mostly submerged shallow reefs of the GBR».

He adds: «Currently, the Remote Sensing Research Centre at the University of Queensland (UQ) is leading efforts, with funding from the GBR Foundation, to create these comprehensive maps through combination of field and satellite image data, and ecological modelling and mapping. A pilot study was used to test the approach in the Capricorn Bunker group during 2016, and methods have now been adapted for application on the 200 reefs in the Cairns to Cooktown Management Region (CCMR). The approaches applied will be the first of their kind to be used over such a large area for so many reefs, and will result not only in benthic and geomorphic maps but also produce detailed water depth and wave climatology data for each shallow reef of the GBR».

For Chris Roelfsema, «Fleur de Passion's journey along the GBR comes at the right time as it provides a unique opportunity to collect additional field data for 15-20 reefs to validate the mapping of the 200 reefs in the CCMR area. Validation data will include georeferenced photo transect surveys, Reef Health and Impact Surveys and Coral Health Chart surveys. This collaboration between the Swiss vessel and RSRC-UQ with the support of the Embassy of Switzerland in Australia is a clear message that there is international interest in conserving the biggest reef globally», he says.

As Australia's lead management agency for the Reef (the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) recently confirmed, «we’re seeing mass coral bleaching on our Reef for the second consecutive year – part of a global event affecting the world’s coral reefs», says Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden.

«This Ocean Mapping Expedition is a wonderful opportunity for the research team to contribute meaningful information to reef managers, helping them gain a more comprehensive picture of how our Reef is faring – not an easy task given the Great Barrier Reef’s immense size spanning more than 2,300 kilometres along the east coast of Australia», she adds.

«The Foundation aims to catalyse solutions to some of the most complex and challenging problems facing the Reef. This project will fill a critical gap by helping to create a comprehensive map of the vast and diverse habitats of the Great Barrier Reef», says Anna Mardsen.

These two programmes specific to the Great Barrier Reef - with the RSRC-UQ and CoralWatch - come in addition to the two others in progress since the start of the expedition on 13 April 2015, and which will also be continued: 20,000 Sounds under the Seas, relating to noise pollution in the oceans, in partnership with the Applied Bioacoustics Laboratory (LAB) of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, and Micromégas, on micro-plastic pollution, in partnership with the Oceaneye Association in Geneva.

To learn more about the RSRC: https://www.rsrc.org.au/