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A stunning start to a scientific ocean-going quest

A stunning start to a scientific ocean-going quest

Plastic policy @ Portsmouth

4 min read Partner content

Scientists from the University of Portsmouth were in London on Sunday (12 June) for the start of a unique piece of research; an epic rowing adventure around the British coastline.

Scientists from the University of Portsmouth were in London on Sunday (12 June) for the start of a unique piece of research; an epic rowing adventure around the British coastline. 

They were at Tower Bridge to bid farewell to the three crews of ocean-going rowing boats, all taking part in GB Row 2022. It’s a race with a difference, and most certainly one with a purpose, combining grueling athletic effort with real-world research. The aim is to gather a comprehensive and crucial data set that will help to preserve precious marine environments and wildlife.

From the moment they set off, each team will be collecting samples for scientists at the University of Portsmouth to study. Rowers have been trained to gather data on microplastics, temperature, noise pollution, and bio-diversity - all of which will help researchers in Portsmouth build a picture of the many challenges facing British coastal waters.

Data collected during the race will significantly improve our understanding of the challenging microplastics in our water.

Dr Fay Couceiro , Lead researcher from the University of Portsmouth

Each boat is crewed by five to six athletes, who will help power it on the 2,000-mile journey around the UK. It’s arguably the toughest rowing race in the world; with strong tides, busy shipping lanes and highly changeable weather conditions to contend with.

The scientists in Portsmouth will carry out analysis and experiments when the rowers return, and will create a map of microplastic and noise pollution around the UK.

Microplastics analysis of the water samples will form a picture of plastic pollution on the UK coastline, its environmental damage and projected long-term impact. This work links in with the University’s Revolution Plastics initiative to limit the damaging consequences of plastic pollution on our health and the environment.

Dr Fay Couceiro, Lead researcher from the University of Portsmouth, said: “Ocean pollution is one of the biggest challenges of our generation. The data being collected by GB Row will greatly enhance our understanding of conditions in the seas around the UK. There is currently no complete map for the UK concentrations of microplastics in the coastal waters. Data collected during the race will significantly improve our understanding of the challenging microplastics in our water.”

Other water samples taken will allow scientists to measure evolving eDNA in fish and marine mammals. It will create a picture of what species are living in and around different areas of the coast and how these might be changing over time.

Constant noise samples will be taken using specially fitted underwater microphones.  As human activity expands across our seas and oceans the underwater soundscapes are changing. Acoustic habitats are being increasingly dominated by human-made noise, which can have a range of impacts on animals living in the sea – from behavioural disturbance to physiological damage.  

The partnership that GB Row Challenge has formed with the University of Portsmouth is a unique and wonderful opportunity for us to facilitate groundbreaking ocean research, employ cutting-edge data techniques such as eDNA sampling, and effectively educate UK children and the wider public - thus driving real changes in their behaviour.

William de Laszlo, Inaugural Guinness World Record holder for the GB Row Challenge in 2005 and event owner

William de Laszlo, inaugural Guinness World Record holder for the GB Row Challenge in 2005 and event owner, added: “As climate change is happening all around us, this research is timely. The partnership that GB Row Challenge has formed with the University of Portsmouth is a unique and wonderful opportunity for us to facilitate groundbreaking ocean research, employ cutting-edge data techniques such as eDNA sampling, and effectively educate UK children and the wider public - thus driving real changes in their behaviour.”

The data will be analysed by University teams led by the following academics:

Dr Fay Couceiro, Reader in Biogeochemistry and Environmental Pollution, will be looking at microplastics.

Dr Andrew Lundgren, Reader in Gravitational Wave Science, will be researching noise. 

Prof Alex Ford, Professor in Marine Biology, will be working with NatureMetrics on eDNA.

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