Coastal and Freshwater news

The Sh'khinah will carry the cadets to Fiji
5 May 2017

Planktonauts training for Sea Cadet mission

Nelson Marlborough Sea Cadet Corps Lieutenant Milo Coldren has been preparing for his aid mission to Fiji with planktonaut training from Cawthron Institute research scientist Dr Xavier Pochon

Dr Pochon joined Milo and his team of cadets in Nelson Harbour to share his plankton sample collection know-how and explain why it’s important we learn more about these diverse organisms.

Oceanic plankton (small drifting plants and animals) play a major role in sustaining life on our planet. They generate half of the oxygen we breath, help regulate our climate, and provide a key indicator of climate change. Plankton are also the basis of the entire ocean’s food chain.

Plankton Planet is an international participative science programme that seeks greater understanding about plankton by equipping citizen sailors (the planktonauts) with a user-friendly sampling toolkit able to easily collect samples while navigating the high seas.

Dr Pochon teaches the cadets how to record field data

The samples are then dried and sent to expert laboratories for testing. In the lab, they are measured for plankton biodiversity through mass sequencing of DNA barcodes. This technology has opened up a new view into the world’s oceans.

“We’ve catalogued thousands of plankton species, but since the ocean is so vast and underexplored, there’s a real possibility Milo and his crew might discover new species,” explained Dr Pochon.

As trained planktonauts, Milo and his team of cadets will collect plankton samples from the ocean throughout their journey across the South-West pacific.

In training, the crew collected plankton using the sampling kit they will take on their mission, logged environmental data including water temperature, salinity, location, and wind speed and direction, then dried and packaged their samples. Due to the amount of sediment in Nelson Harbour, the samples collected in training were not as rich as samples the cadets are expected to collect from the less turbid open ocean.

A Planktonaut in training processes a water sample on board the Sh'khinah

Milo first learned about Plankton Planet when he skippered Dr Pochon and his wife’s anniversary celebration on board his Gourmet Sailing yacht last year. Milo said he was instantly interested in getting involved, 

“At first the naval and scientific worlds might not seem like obvious partners, but both play a part in protecting and caring for our oceans. In fact, this very yacht was used in the 90's for testing water quality in the Pacific and our First Mate Kathryn Holmes is trained in environmental management.

“The cadets are excited to begin their journey to Fiji where they will develop seafaring skills, and make a valuable contribution to science through Plankton Planet. They’ve been working hard in preparation for this mission and will be fundraising between now and July to cover the cost of their return to Nelson.”

The cadets will also stop on route to Fiji to participate in the Plankton Planet youth outreach at the Maritime Museum of Auckland. This outreach day is part of a 6-day workshop organised by Dr Pochon to bring together international researchers to discuss the applications possible with the help of Planktonauts.

Additionally, Plankton Planet and the New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland will host an evening for the general public entitled “From Traditional Sailing to Oceanography 2.0: An Epic Voyage through Our Changing Seas” at 18:30, Thursday, July 6. The museum will also feature a Plankton Planet Arts Display showing never-before-seen images of plankton.

The science workshop will run the first week of July in Auckland and is supported by New Zealand Royal Society, Cawthron Institute, Sir Peter Blake Trust, and Auckland Maritime Museum.