The Ocean Race sets sail on the most important race ever – the ‘Race to Save the Ocean’
As The Ocean Race 2022-23 sets sail from Alicante, Spain, this Sunday January 15th, none of the competing teams are under any illusion about the enormity of the race ahead of them. Not only are they racing each other against some of the toughest conditions on the planet for the round-the-world sailing title, but they are taking on one of the biggest challenges ever: the ‘Race to Save the Ocean’.
The urgent need to ‘Save the Ocean’
69% of the planet is covered by the world’s oceans, and the ocean is vital to the health of our planet. 93% of global excess heat is stored in the ocean and a third of man-made CO2 and yet, over the last fifty years, the oceans have suffered badly at the hands of human neglect and over-fishing.
They have become a vast dumping ground, with an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste being deposited into the sea every year. Meanwhile, 70% of marine life has been lost since the 1970s and 75% of the worlds’ coral reefs have experienced some form of bleaching.
Vital Scientific Data
The sailing community has been one of the first to recognise the damage being done to the world’s oceans. Every boat participating in the challenging six-month race will carry state-of-the-art equipment onboard to measure a range of 15 variables throughout the 60,000 km route. Unlike in previous editions, this data will be constantly monitored in real-time throughout the race due to the unique design of the IMOCA boats.
Sailing through some of the most remote parts of the planet, seldom reached by scientific vessels, the teams will have a unique opportunity to gather vital data that will be analysed by scientists from eight partner research organisations. This data is essential to understand the health of the ocean and two of its biggest threats: climate change and plastic pollution.
The scientific programme was established in 2015 and launched during the 2017-18 edition in partnership with 11th Hour Racing, who are now the Premier Partner of The Ocean Race and Founding Partner for the Racing with Purpose sustainability programme. The scientific programme has proved to be a rich source of information from across the entire globe.
The Ocean Race 2017/18
The 2017-18 race, using Volvo Ocean 65 boats, gathered 96 samples during the course of the race which measured sea surface temperature, salinity, CO2 as well as identifying high concentrations of microplastics around the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea, the Western Mediterranean and Gulf of Cadiz, and the western tropical Pacific.
The Ocean Race Europe and the race Prologue, which took place in May-June 2021, provided compelling evidence that ocean carbon dioxide levels have increased significantly in the last twenty years. Every sample taken during the race was contaminated with microplastic particles, with the Baltic Sea showing the highest concentration of microplastics during the race.
Six years on, The Ocean Race 2022-23 will set new standards in scientific research, with a dedicated team of seven developing one of the most advanced scientific research programmes to ever be launched on the ocean. They have partnered with eight scientific groups, all of whom will provide different areas of expertise and knowledge:
- Geomar (Germany) – pCO2
- Max Planck Gesellschaft (Germany) -pCO2 and Dissolved Oxygen
- CNRS (France) – Dissolved Oxygen
- Ifremer (France) – Sea surface temperature and salinity
- National Oceanography Centre (Great Britain) – Microplastics
- University of Rhode Island (United States) – Microplatsics
- NOAA (United States) – Sea surface temperature, weather, bar and pressure.
- Universitat de Leida (Spain) – Trace Elements
Each boat will be equipped with onboard weather sensors to measure barometer pressure, wind speed, wind direction and air temperature. Some teams will deploy drifter buoys in the Southern Ocean, where there is less ocean traffic, to help grow understanding about how currents and the climate are changing, helping to improve weather forecasts and the prediction of extreme weather events, as well as revealing insights on longer-term climate trends.
Two boats, 11th Hour Racing Team and Team Malizia, will carry OceanPacks, which take water samples to measure levels of carbon dioxide, oxygen, salinity and temperature, providing insights about the impact of climate change on the ocean, while trace elements, like iron, zinc and copper, will be measured for the first time.
Two other boats, GUYOT environement – Team Europe and Team Holcim – PRB, will be constantly sampling for microplastic particles and the data will be transmitted, via satellite, to a team of scientists who will, for the first time, be able to identify the source of the plastic product, which may prove awkward reading for some of the major global sports sponsors.
Huge technological advancements
In part due to the five-year interval since the last race, there have been huge technological advancements in the measurement and sampling strategies from 2017-18.
Thanks to the IMOCA keel providing a constant supply of water, sampling can be 24/7 throughout the race, allowing for state-of-the-art microplastic sampling and pCO2 testing.
The advanced scientific equipment is lighter and easier to use, and the program will this time provide real time data transfer and will feed databases, as it has in the past, such as the Surface Ocean Carbon Dioxide Atlas, which provides data for the Global Carbon Budget, a yearly assessment of carbon dioxide that informs targets and predictions for carbon reduction.
“A healthy ocean isn’t just vital to the sport we love, it regulates the climate, provides food for billions of people and supplies half the planet’s oxygen. Its decline impacts the entire world. To halt it, we need to supply governments and organisations with scientific evidence and demand they act on it.”
“We are in a unique position to contribute to this; data collected during our previous races has been included in crucial reports about the state of the planet that have informed and influenced decisions by governments. Knowing that we can make a difference in this way has inspired us to expand our science programme even further and collaborate with more of the world’s leading science organisations to support their vital research.”
The Ocean Race Start – Alicante, Spain – (Jan 15th)
The race will start in Alicante, Spain, the current home of the Ocean Race, on Sunday January 15th. In addition to the huge scientific programme, the race will reach feature a range of sustainable activities at each stopover. These will be presented as part of the Ocean Live Park in every host city.
Alicante has hosted the start of the last four editions of The Ocean Race, since 2008, and has established itself at the heart of the sailing community. It is home to the nearby Tabarca Island, which is surrounded by Spain’s oldest marine reserve, covering an area of 1,754 hectares. Within the reserve the Posidonia oceanica seagrass beds enrich and purify the water and provide refuge for a large number of larvae, fish and other marine life.
Stopover 1 – Cabo Verde Republic, West Africa – (Jan 25th)
From Alicante, The Ocean Race will head down to Cabo Verde, the first time it has stopped at the African island, and the first time a West African nation has hosted a stopover.
The Cabo Verde Republic is 99 percent water and one percent land and is one of the top 10 marine biodiversity hotspots in the world, especially for reef fish, coral and the wide variety of whales and dolphins recorded in the area, representing 30% of all marine mammals in the world.
The Cabo Verde Olympic Committee has been identified as one of the leading Olympic Committees focused on sustainability and is featured in Global Sustainable Sport’s Top 50. It is a signatory to both the UN Sport for Climate Action Framework and the Race to Zero. 20 percent of Cabo Verde’s energy comes from renewable sources with a target of 50 percent by 2030.
The Cabo Verde stopover will coincide with the region’s famed Ocean Week, an event which will focus on local and sustainable issues and disseminate technical and scientific knowledge around the sustainable use of marine resources.
Stopover 2 – Cape Town, South Africa – (Feb 26th)
From Cabo Verde the race will move to Cape Town, which has hosted the most stopovers of any host port – eleven of the race’s thirteen editions.
Cape Town has as its own unique biodiversity and has suffered in recent years from the effects of drought and coastal erosion. Sustainability has become entrenched in the city’s strategic planning and decision making, with the aim to increase its renewable energy share to 40 percent by 2030.
The Southern Ocean
From Cape Town The Ocean Race heads across its longest leg, 12,750 nautical miles, through the Southern Ocean to Itajai in Brazil. This will be one of the toughest legs of the race, but may also be one of the most important from a research perspective, largely due to the remote nature of the ocean.
Stopover 3 – Itajai, Brazil – (Apr 23rd)
Itajai is a popular tourist destination in Brazil, and the race is expected to attract over a quarter of a million visitors. Itajai is located in the State of Santa Catarina which has frequently been voted the ‘Best Tourism State in Brazil’.
It frequently demonstrates the full range of sustainable outcomes, focusing on being environmentally friendly, socially responsible and economically viable.
Stopover 4 – Newport, Rhode Island, United States – (May 21st)
Newport, Rhode Island, in the United States is the fifth stopover on the race. The city is home to the 11th Hour Racing Team who have been instrumental in helping to launch a dedicated sustainability programme in the last edition of the race (2017-18).
The 2015 stopover generated an estimated US$47.7 million to the Ocean State’s economy and this year’s edition will demonstrate how sustainable tourism can exist alongside a sustainable environmental programme.
Stopover 5 – Aarhus, Denmark – (Jun 8th)
From Newport the race moves to Aarhus, Denmark, the venue for the Hempel Sailing World Championships in 2018.
Aarhus was recently ranked third on the index of the world’s most sustainable tourist destinations on ’The Global Destination Sustainability Index’, with a particular focus on events and conferences. SportAccord was hosted there in 2017.
Aarhus, like all the other stopovers, will feature a sustainable educational programme with local schools holding sessions in Ocean Live Park during the 2023 stopover.
Stopover 6 – The Hague, Netherlands – (Jun 15th)
The Hague, in the Netherlands, is the penultimate stopover. Known as ‘the City by the Sea’, The Hague is committed to becoming climate neutral by 2030 – 10 years ahead of the Netherlands national goal. Renewable energy is a key focus—the city’s roofline is topped with solar panels—while a multitude of wind turbines sit a short distance offshore.
The Hague plans to minimise the building of temporary structures in order to save energy, materials and cost, and to use existing locations in and around the harbour.
The Grand Finale – Genova, Italy – (Jul 1st)
Genova, Italy, will be the scene for the Grand Finale, the first time that the around-the-world will culminate in the Mediterranean and the first time the race has visited Italy.
Higher energy efficiency, green mobility, responsible fishing, and a healthy sea are the sustainable goals that the city are aiming to deliver for a green and sustainable Grand Finale.
Genova is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered one of the most important maritime centres in Europe. The city will become the European Capital of Sport in 2024.
The Ocean Race 2022-23 will travel the circumference of the world, covering 32,000 nautical miles in 95 days of sailing competition. It will be one of the most sustainable sporting events ever and will feature the most ambitious and comprehensive science programme yet created by a sporting event.
As the starting gun is fired on Sunday it will not only signal the start of the around-the-world race, but also the start of the ‘Race to Save the Ocean’.
It may also signal the moment that other sporting organisations, and events, start to focus on the urgent need to address the biggest race that sport has ever faced: the ‘Race to Save the Planet’
Read moreMike Laflin