“The rapacious spread of micro-organisms and small creatures is one of the most immediate disruptions to the ocean’s natural ecosystem,” Salter says.
“It means an awful lot to me to be one of the scientists working on the first project to measure the movement of the world’s maritime life forms.”
Salter and the other media crew accompanying the seven boats competing in the race conduct three tests every third day.
“When the weather conditions are fair and the seas are calm, the tests take only an hour or so, but when it’s stormy then it’s no easy job and it takes a lot of time from the other tasks I am responsible for on board. But these tests are important,” he says.
The testing personnel on all the crews agree on that point. The researchers in Stockholm receive deliveries of all the tests as punctually as clockwork.
“Large quantities of invertebrates, algae, plant plankton and micro-organisms have been transferred from sea to sea in the last few hundred years, and particularly more recently. The main reason for this is that large container ships pump ballast water to keep themselves stable on the high seas. They pump water into their ballast tanks in one ocean and discharge it in another. It’s crucial that we make some changes in this pattern,” says Salter, as he removes the surgical gloves he wears to ensure optimum hygiene conditions for the tests.
Melanie Moore agrees that the results of these tests are necessary to establish the criteria for effecting change. Moore is global head of department of the environment at Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, one of the major sponsors of the Volvo Ocean Race and the company instigating the project to conduct the tests.
“The feared comb jelly is just one example of a species resident in the Atlantic Ocean that has moved into the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea and threatened the viability of fishing. Another example is the Japanese oyster, which has established a firm hold in the waters off South Africa and had a drastic impact on other species. Toxic algae from the northeast Pacific Ocean have moved into waters off China and exterminated shellfish,” Moore says.
“These three are but some of the many examples.”
The project is to be the breakthrough for future technology that will purify ballast water from shipping.
“The UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) aims to have all major shipping lines purify their ballast water by the year 2010 at the latest. There is still a long way to go to achieving this goal, since many countries have yet to ratify the IMO convention,” says Moore.
Only 14 states have to date ratified the convention.
The crews on the remaining boats in the race will continue to conduct tests of the oceans’ waters right up until the race finishes in June this year. Guy Salter is one of the people pushing for a continuation of the testing project.
“The Volvo Ocean Race is an ideal base to do this,” he says, as he hurries on board the Ericsson 4. “Taking measurements during every race would give us data on the changes made to the bio-system from year to year. The significant attention that this race generates will make it easier for us to bring this information to the attention of the public worldwide. The more people know about these critical changes, the better chance we have of doing something constructive about it.”