Yachts for Science: Can You Make a Difference?

23 December 2021 By Oliver Steeds
Courtesy of Nathan Lane/Straights Times

Yachts for Science matches marines scientists with yachts around the world. Here's how you can get involved...

Want to support ocean conservation and help scientists understand our oceans? Oliver Steeds, CEO of Nekton, a marine research institute, outlines the changes you can make to turn the boat from a superyacht to a marine science research vessel with the Yachts for Science program. The program has been set up to be the match-makers — a partnership between Nekton, BOAT International, Arksen, and the Ocean Family Foundation.

The ocean is our planet’s life support system. It regulates our climate and it provides both food security for billions and essential medicines — including the first diagnostic tests and treatment for COVID-19. The ocean produces more than half of our oxygen, captures most of our anthropogenic heat, and is the largest carbon store on our planet. But it remains the least-protected part of our planet — only 2.5 percent is currently highly protected. Increasingly, scientists, climate change experts, and governments are calling for 30 percent protection by 2030.

“With endurance to operate in coastal or remote locations, diving capability, tenders, small cranes and accommodation, the private yacht fleet can provide access to the sea to enable and empower marine scientists to work on the frontlines of our changing planet,” explains Mike Pownall, Nekton’s head of marine operations and a veteran of planning, implementing, and leading complex offshore and subsea operations.

With some deck space, autonomous underwater vehicles, small “suitcase ROVs,” drop cameras or baited cameras, sensors, hydrophones, and buoys, even water collection systems can all be readily deployed. Add a slightly larger crane and you can deploy submersibles, and even a larger ROV if the vessel can hold station.

Research teams vary in size, from one up to a dozen or more depending on the goal. Critical research can be done on ocean transits, while wildlife and surface observations, coral reef research, or a range of physical, chemical, and biological research activities can be achieved at most locations visited by yachts.

With more available deck space, a modular or containerized system can be considered to house dive systems, submersible operations, or even a lab. Using a tender or the yacht — with a hull-mounted or “over the side” pole mount multibeam echosounder — you can map the uncharted depths and discover new subsea mountains, trenches, ridges, and features. With meteorological logging equipment, yachts can provide vital data to inform weather and climate science.

It’s relatively straightforward. All it takes is the willingness from yacht owners to invite scientists on their vessels. One of those is Jing-Yi Wee, the owner of S/Y Dunia Baru, which participated in the Yachts For Science initiative in January 2020. “Dunia Baru has a history of contributing and giving back to her community — from providing earthquake relief in Lombok to building a learning center for children in Raja Ampat,” she says. “After reading about the Yachts for Science program through BOAT International and Erika Gress’s search for a vessel in the Raja Ampat region to engage in black coral research, we thought it sounded exciting and felt Dunia Baru was well equipped to support and contribute to this effort.” The research was led by Dr. Erika Gress and her team of four marine biologists.

Wee noted that the crew knew the area well and their dive facilities were excellent, so they were happy to be able to assist in the research. “I believe that by the end of the trip, a greater understanding was formed; from us and the crew for the hard, patient work that marine scientists do to advance our understanding of the oceans and from Erika and her team the effort and dedication from the crew each and every day to maintain a yacht such as Dunia Baru,” Wee says. “It was a wonderful experience to be able to give back to the community through facilitating scientific research and [we] would certainly do it again.”

Currently, Yachts for Science has several projects under way:

Project / Coral Reefs of the Twilight Zone

Dr. Michelle Taylor is seeking four to six berths for a two- to four-week program near Cuba and all regions of the north Caribbean, where deep reefs can be located. Access to a RIB and SCUBA equipment is required; if six berths are available, a student will join the expedition for training.

Project / Save Eagle Island

Dr. Peter Carr and the Chagos Conservation Trust is seeking seven berths for a month-long expedition in either 2022 or 2023, ideally between April and September, at Eagle Island in the Chagos archipelago. The intention would be to have the yacht as a working platform for the duration.

Project / Mediterranean White Shark Search

A team of scientists are seeking 7 to 8 berths for a two- to three-week research program detecting, filming, and tagging white sharks in the Mediterranean — one of the world's most endangered and least understood populations of sharks. Agile tenders for eDNA sampling are a key requirement with research set to take place in May–June 2022. Crewmembers from the Discovery Channel are set to join the research team to film footage for a potential documentary. 

Project / SARGSINK By Dr. Mar Fernández-Méndez

Dr. Mar Fernández-Méndez is seeking two to three berths to aid her research into the potential of free-floating macroalgae Sargassum as long-term carbon storage. The research program is set to take place between April and October 2022 in Cancun or the Turks and Caicos Islands and requires two or three available berths.

Project / Species Interactions and Reef Recovery in the Aftermath of Mass Coral Bleaching

An investigation into the ability of surviving corals to grow, compete, and recover from bleaching is set to take place in October 2021 to April 2022, particularly March to April 2022 on the Great Barrier Reef. A minimum of four berths is required for this project along with a diving compressor, dive tanks & dive weights.

Project / Exploration of the Puerto Rico Trench via Untethered Free Vehicles

This project will attempt to explore and map the Puerto Rico Trench focusing on physical parameters such as temperature, salinity, and density. Researchers are seeking two to three berths on a yacht capable of launching and recovering heavy equipment.

For more details on the projects and how you may help, go to