3 of the best destinations for research and conservation voyages

The Bahamas

Edited by Kara Murphy

The decline of coral reefs and pollution harming sea life are considered to be two of the biggest threats to the world’s oceans. However, whether you are superyacht owner or enjoying a luxury yacht charter it is possible to make a difference as there are plenty of opportunities for getting involved in ocean conservation while still enjoying a vacation.

Here we look at three of the best destinations for research and conservation voyages so that you can help protect the world’s oceans while on vacation.

1. The Bahamas

Why just dive with tiger sharks in The Bahamas when you can help tag them as well? The International SeaKeepers Society , a nonprofit organization that promotes oceanographic research, conservation and education through the direct involvement of the superyacht community, always needs yachts for its DISCOVERY Yachts program. The concept is simple: Owners donate time on their boats for research, including fuel, provisioning and crew and, in return, they have a chance to work with well-known marine research scientists while also possibly qualifying for tax benefits.

An ongoing program is shark tagging at Tiger Beach on Grand Bahama. “We try to do (this) expedition once every six months, usually in May and November,” says Angela Rosenberg, SeaKeepers’ director of Programs and Policies.

The 10-day November 2014 tagging expedition involved the 125-foot Northcoast Fugitive and the 150-foot Cheoy Lee Qing.

“Researchers want to know why the area is so heavily dominated by females — are they at Tiger Beach for gestation? Do female sharks remain there after giving birth? Do sexually immature sharks use it as a safe area from mates?” says Rosenberg. The expedition’s first part was spent collecting data from acoustic receivers anchored to the sea floor then redeploying them. The second part involved baiting the sharks and pulling them onto a custom-made floating platform. Researchers took measurements, blood samples and an ultrasound; surgically inserted an acoustic tag beneath the shark’s skin; and, on some occasions, attached a satellite tag and a National Geographic Crittercam to the dorsal fin. And you can help as much as you want. “Owners, guests and crew can be involved in all aspects of the research,” says Rosenberg.

Drifter programme

Yachts can also purchase and deploy monitoring devices that observe and transmit sea surface temperatures, current velocity, latitude, longitude and time, then track this drifter online.

PIcture courtesy of Nicolas.Voisin44/Shutterstock.com

of the best destinations for research and conservation voyages

Camera in hand, you swim away from your yacht and snorkel south along a reef ledge, near three green turtles and a reef shark, then continue across a sandy patch toward Lighthouse Bommie, several coral outcrops at a depth of about 30 to 50 feet. There, sailing gracefully over and around the cleaning station below are three reef manta rays (Manta alfredi). In awe, heart racing, you free dive down to take a photo and, as you do, another glides above you, its 18-foot wingspan propelling it effortlessly over your head. With humpback whale song filling your ears, you photograph the manta’s underside.

Lady Elliot Island, a coral cay at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, 46 nautical miles off the Queensland coast, is a particularly excellent place to observe these elegant creatures, which are listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Mantas are seen here year-round, and in the austral winter months (June to August), they aggregate by the hundreds.
Unesco voted not to put Australia's Great Barrier Reef on world 'danger list' earlier this year but conservation charities are quick to remind people that region is still highly vulnerable. Information about manta rays distribution and movements is vital for conservation purposes; to that end, a University of Queensland-based research program, Project Manta, investigates population, feeding and cleaning ecology of manta rays off the eastern Australian coast. Since mantas can be differentiated by their unique ventral markings, photo-identification is one of the project’s key research methods. And, best of all, it’s something you can help with at any time whether on a private yacht or luxury yacht charter in Australia.

Once you’ve taken your photos or videos, email them to project.manta@uq.edu.au, along with date, time and location information. Researchers will compare your shots to those in a database to see if the individual has been photographed previously (and, if so, where and when). And if you’ve snapped a manta that isn’t already in the database, you get to name it.

Photo ID tips

The manta’s ventral surface is the main area needed for photo-identification. Try to take photos that capture the gill slits, belly and pelvic fins (which reveal the animal’s sex). Dorsal shots are also useful if they show

special patterns and recognizable bite marks. Avoid using excessive flash, and for the best shots let the manta come to you.

This article first appeared in the April edition of Showboats

The Solomon Islands

Imagine cruising the South Pacific with your school-age children, exploring blissfully remote yachting destinations such as the Solomon Islands. And as you and your family are enjoying some of the world’s best shipwreck dives and reefs crowded only with fish and other marine life, you’re learning about the connection between the area’s marine ecosystem and local culture, possibly assisting with marine conservation and research, and your kids are receiving course credit.

How? The World Travel Academy @Ross, an initiative of internationally accredited programs at New York-based Ross School, delivers customized academic curriculum based on your family’s interests, destinations, goals and student ages. Programs range from 10 days up to several months and can include a certified Ross teacher who travels with you; access to the school’s academic resources, technology, digital media and library; a mobile technology kit with cameras, iPads and other tools for documenting the experience; and participation in ongoing research projects.

In addition to educational programs aboard private yachts, the World Travel Academy @Ross facilitates boat-based expeditions for student groups, including those attended by Ross’ boarding and day students. In October 2014, for example, five students and one staff member joined Smithsonian Institution scientists Dr. Chris Meyer and Dr. Sea McKeon and National Geographic contributing photographer David Liittschwager aboard the motor yacht Belle Aimée in the Solomon Islands. Over three weeks, the students went on daily dives, using a device and technique pioneered by Liittschwager, the biocube — a one-cubic-foot, open-sided cube that provides a standardized approach to sampling — to gather more than 180 marine specimens. Afterward, they liaised with the experts to photograph, identify and document these marine species.

Prior to this expedition, no one had conducted a baseline study of the area, meaning no recognized academic information about its marine species existed. The Ross students are helping to remedy this. Back at home, they’re collaborating with experts to produce a Solomon Islands field guide.

If you are interested in visiting the Solomon Islands don’t miss our superyacht captain’s tips for a successful vacation.

Picture courtesy of Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock.com

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