Thursday, 14 November 2013

Final Thoughts

We finally made it into Phuket; Au Chalong to be precise.  This marks the end of our scientific endeavours as we cannot sample in economic zones.  It's hard to believe that we made it all the way across the Indian Ocean and living as a land-lubber is staring us in the face.  We thought very briefly about continuing on, but that we have much to do here and hitting the high seas again will have to wait until our 2014 Expedition.  

I had a haunting feeling during our crossing that the oceans were virtually empty, somehow--and incredibly--devoid of life.  Sure we saw a pod of whales, two pods of dolphins, caught precious few fish and birds were few and far between, but the Indian Ocean is considered to be one of the worlds last untouched oceans.  Still many many days passed where we saw absolutely no sign of life.  Could it be that such a vast ocean supports so little life?  And if so, what could we expect to see on the Pacific or the Atlantic...  Anything at all?  

With this on my mind, I read a Sydney Morning Herald article: The Ocean Is Broken, about Newcastle yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen's experiences of his ocean crossings and the sobering state of the worlds oceans as he saw it.  He reports "huge tangles of synthetic rope, fishing lines and nets. Pieces of polystyrene foam by the million. And slicks of oil and petrol, everywhere. Countless hundreds of wooden power poles are out there, snapped off by the killer wave and still trailing wires in the middle of the sea."  He describes part of journey as 'sailing through a garbage tip.'  

As we sailed through some of the most remote atolls in the Maldives, we saw water bottles floating around, flip-flops, household detergent bottles and diapers.  The floating debris got worse as we approached Male, the main tourist hub of the Maldives.  In Thailand, we saw black rubbish bags filled with trash floating on the sea.  And single-use plastic bags were ubiquitous.  
It's tempting to think that whatever is happening to the worlds oceans does not affect life on land.  But that is just not the case.  A recent article in the The Strait Times in Singapore reports what we all knew already: that the world's fisheries are collapsing as a result of over-fishing.  

The good news is that sustainable fishing practices are starting to emerge.  The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) along with the World Wife Fund for Nature (WWF) organised Singapore's first Sustainable Seafood Business Forum.  The bad news is that fish from sustainable fisheries can cost anywhere from 20-40% more.    

There is plenty that we can all do, however.  We can forego the use of single-use plastic bags and bring our own reusable bag when you we shopping.  We can also change our buying habits by supporting sustainable fisheries.  Little things like that multiplied across millions of people has a tremendous impact.  

In the meantime, 
we will be busy forming the Indigo Foundation that will fund our future expeditions and the development of the sampling kits that will be fitted to our world cruiser participants.  Our work depends on the cooperation of our fellow cruisers.  If you are interested in participating, please contact Rachelle Lauro on rachelle (at) to be added to our growing list.  

Saturday, 2 November 2013


Leg 3 from Maldives to Phuket marks the most scientifically interesting leg so far. Certainly, the samples we took from Chagos will be pivotal and ground-breaking, but this leg sees us through the worlds busiest shipping channel. We are looking at how metals leaching from the tankers affects the overall health of the microbial ecosystem.
It was interesting to see that the shipping lane itself was highly organized and limited to a relatively narrow span of ocean.  There were no errant tankers headed every which way.  They all proceeded one after another; it was almost as if outgoing vessels took the north side of the 'lane' and incoming vessels took the south side, just like any freeway. It does make sense though as the international rules for preventing collision at sea specify that in a head-on situation each vessel should leave the other on it's port side. As a net result the ships are keeping the 'right lane' (even in Commonwealth countries).
We cut transects across the shipping channels and with the handy use of our AIS, we were able to avoid becoming a fly on the windscreen of these massive ships.  For those who are old enough to remember the classic videogame of frogger, this is what Indigo was playing in the shipping lane. Here is a shot of Jay Cullen and Joe Grzymski taking a water sample from the wake of a passing ship.