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A Summertime Voyage of Environmental Observations

Written by Thomas G. (Year 11)

This summer, Year 11 Eton student Thomas G. (Yes, that’s me) had the great good fortune to spend three weeks on an ocean expedition off the coast of Brittany. Some months earlier I’d been awarded a community service prize for my volunteer work teaching children how to sail, and that prize paid for me to go on an ocean sail-training voyage. Because of my interest in the environment and my commitment to Roots & Shoots, I requested and was given permission to do a Roots & Shoots project during the voyage. The project I decided to do was research – I contributed to a marine observation project called Obsenmer. Obsenmer is a crowd-sourced record of marine environmental observations of everything from whales and seabirds to floating hazards and pollutants. Because every observation has exact geo-coordinates and the date of observation, the Obsenmer database provides a record over time of where sea life and sea threats have been observed, information which is very useful to researchers studying environmental threats to Earth’s oceans.

Our expedition was a small flotilla of gaff-rigged yachts – two traditional pilot cutters and one smaller craft.  Pilot cutters are extremely fast boats with very large sail area relative to the hull size. Along with other teenagers on the sail-training voyage, I learned how to navigate using traditional methods as we plotted our course. Whether I was at the helm of the cutter Yseult, trimming the sails or helping to prepare a meal in the galley below deck, I was part of a crew. We lived on the boats and depended on each other to stay safe and in good spirits whether the weather was fair or foul. From squalls and seasickness to perfect sunny days, we learned a lot about seamanship, leadership and being kind. We also stopped at a number of French ports, where we saw historic places, practiced our French, and ate much better food than we could cook on board.

Throughout it all, I added daily observations with precise geo-location data of everything from ocean mammals to floating plastic debris. In the accompanying photos, one can see the course we plotted from St. Malo to Port du Crouesty, along with images of our flotilla, me at the helm of Yseult, me entering an Obsenmer observation using my phone, and screenshots of what some of my Obsenmer records look like.

I have also included photos from what was a highlight of the expedition for me. I was at the helm of Yseult, navigating through a passage known as ‘Le Chenal du Toulinguet’, when a sudden movement on the port side caught my eye. Was that a dolphin?  All at once everyone on deck was calling out, “Dolphins! Starboard side!”  A pod of dolphins was swimming alongside us, leaping in and out of the water clearly conscious of and interacting with us, and no more than three meters away. They accompanied us for more than 10 minutes. It was magical. And, of course, I made an Obsenmer report about it!

         Dolphins swimming alongside Yseult
One of my Obsenmer reports
           The crew of the cutter Yseult at port
               Yseult underway
The course we plotted from St. Malo to Port du Crousty
         Two of our flotilla of three gaff-rigs

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