By Dona Bertarelli
I want to thank all our partner schools, in France and Switzerland, and the 2,000 students who are following us. Whenever I can, I will be answering your many questions throughout this journey around the planet, a journey that we are taking together to discover the wonders of our world.
With all the crew of Spindrift 2, through our observations and our encounters, not only with marine life, but also with the islands and peninsulas that we pass, with the meteorological phenomena we experience, and with the birds and the stars that accompany us during our voyage, we will help you to live this adventure, like Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s famous book. We are calling our Spindrift for Schools series - Out of the Classroom.
The Kerguelen Archipelago
I am getting used to the idea that a few days ago, we were the closest we will be to other human beings until we close in on the Antarctic Peninsula - except maybe to the International Space station, which is only 400km away.
A community of scientists is living on the French Sub Antarctic, Archipel des Kerguelen, which is amongst the most isolated, windy and coldest places on earth. These volcanic islands are more than 3,500km away from the nearest populated location.
There are between 50 and 100 scientists, engineers and researchers based on the islands, depending on the time of year. It is so cold right now I cannot imagine how these people continue to work in the southern hemisphere winter months – when the sun remains below the horizon for about three months.
The islands are located in the Antarctic convergence zone. This is where warmer water from the Indian Ocean mixes with the cold Antarctic seas, producing nutrient rich waters. The richness of these waters entices huge numbers of elephant seals, king penguins, and albatross to the shores of the Kerguelens to breed.
In 2006 the French Government designated the waters surrounding Kerguelen a marine protected area (MPA), to safeguard important cetacean habitats, commercially important Toothfish and breeding grounds for sea birds.
During the current climate negotiations in Paris, the French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, committed to extending the current MPA in the French Sub Antarctic to include 550,000 square kilometers of highly protected area.
This announcement was made during the first meeting, in the twenty-one years of climate negotiations, that the theme of the ocean was addressed – linking ocean resilience to mitigate the effects of the changing climate.
Until this year it has been very difficult to monitor effectively fully protected marine reserves. Traditionally, enforcement of fishing activity in no-take marine reserves comprised a ‘boots on deck’ approach, meaning enforcement officers on the bridge looking out using radar and binoculars. From my experience keeping a watch aboard Spindrift 2 it is very difficult to see further than a few miles – especially in current conditions.
Maximizing the use of satellite capabilities is revolutionizing the management of marine reserves. My family, through the Bertarelli Foundation, has been working with the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Satellite Applications Catapult to design a platform called The Virtual Watch Room.
The Virtual Watch Room is a tool designed specifically to monitor marine reserves in a cost-effective way. This tool drastically reduces the person power required to analyze and detect illegal and unreported fishing activities. The technology analyzes multiple sources of live satellite tracking data and then links them to information about a ship’s ownership history and country of registration, providing a dossier of up-to-the-minute data that can alert officials to suspicious fishing vessel movements.
Two key data sources analyzed are Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Automatic Identification System (AIS). We are using both of these systems on board Spindrift 2. SAR, very simply put, is radar housed on a satellite, emitting microwave radiation. The radiation is reflected from the surface in different ways depending on the reflecting surface material, for example metal on a fishing boat, or white ice to detect icebergs.
SAR imagery is being analyzed daily to determine our route through these icy waters. We are acutely aware of the limitations of SAR data as it will only detect sizable icebergs and approximately two thirds of an iceberg is submerged. This is the reason why we stay at least 50 miles away from detected icebergs.
I will be addressing Satellite technology for detecting ice on a later article, where CLS, our partner company during our around the world record, will explain how they apply this technique to send us imagery and alert us of the presence of icebergs.
View of the Kerguelen Archipelago from Spindrift 2 during the Jules Verne Trophy - © Yann Riou | Spindrift racing