Mumbai: The Volvo Ocean Race, the world's premier yacht race for professional racing crews, is taking part in an environmental project to analyse how the oceans have been affected by ships' exchanging of billions of tonnes of ballast water. The programme was initiated by the official logistics partner, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL).
Sea vessels including large ships and cruise boats use a tremendous amount of ballast water. Ballast water discharge typically contains a variety of biological materials, including plants, animals, viruses, and bacteria. Studies have shown that these materials often include non-native, nuisance, exotic species that can cause extensive ecological and economic damage to aquatic ecosystems.
As per the programme, a dedicated team member on each yacht will be responsible for taking regular water samples using a sophisticated testing process based on bioluminescence using a measuring instrument called a luminometer. The research at sea involves recording the mass of species in the sample and reporting the results. A scientific report of the findings will be published post-race.
The race route provides scientists with a rare opportunity to analyse the biomass of the water in deep seas, especially on the non-regular shipping routes, thanks to the race boats.
WWL, an environmental leader in logistics and ocean transportation, is very enthusiastic about the project, which provides an opportunity to advance scientific research as to how foreign invaders found in ballast water are upsetting the eco-systems in the world's great oceans.
"Invasive species are one of the four major threats to the world's oceans, the other three being global climate change, marine pollution and over fishing," said WWL's global head of environment, Melanie Moore.
"What we want to look at is the mass of species along the race route. That's the benefit of what the crew can do for us. It's about conducting research that will go towards creating some better ballast water treatment systems for the future," she added.
The United Nations marine body, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), is in the process of getting member nations to ratify a convention, which would force countries to ensure that their ships treat their ballast water so that it doesn't carry invasive species to other oceans.
Every country on the 2008-09 race route is under threat from invasive marine species, from the Ostrea gigas (oyster) in South Africa, which has destroyed habits and caused eutrophication, to the Gymondinium catenatum in China, an algae which has caused shellfish poisoning.
To put this research in perspective, the IMO has issued a dire warning about the threat of invasive marine species carried across the world in ballast water.
The Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09 will be the 10th edition of the ocean marathon. Starting from Alicante in Spain, on 4 October 2008, it will, for the first time, sail through Cochin, Singapore and Qingdao before finishing in St Petersburg, Russia. Spanning across 37,000 nautical miles, with11 stopages the race takes nine months to complete.