11th Hour Racing Team Sailing to Sustainability

The 11th Hour racing team sails towards sustainability by collecting environmental DNA during the Ocean Race.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The 11th Hour racing team sails towards sustainability by collecting environmental DNA during the Ocean Race. Image: Unsplash

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The 11th Hour racing team sails towards sustainability and collects data along the way.

Since 2019, the 11th Hour Racing Team, a high-performance ocean racing team, has been racing and sailing with sustainability in mind. The team is committed to inspiring positive action among sailing and coastal communities and global sports fans to create long-lasting change for ocean health.

Throughout their races, the 11th Hour Racing Team commits to ocean literacy and stewardship, increasing the understanding and appreciation of the importance of healthy oceans and waterways. They prioritize advancing practices and technologies that reduce waste in coastal communities and the marine industry. The team is consistently working towards improving water quality and sequestering carbon through coastal habitat restoration.  

The 11th Hour Racing Team participated in the 2022-23 Ocean Race,  the world’s longest and toughest professional sporting event. In January, the race started in Alicante, Spain, and finished in Genova, Italy, in the summer. Although winning the 6-month race, the 11th Hour Racing Team stayed true to their mission and put sustainability and ocean health awareness at the forefront.   

Throughout the race, the team collected ocean samples of Environmental DNA, one of the most advanced ways to measure ocean health and biodiversity. Environmental DNA (eDNA) provides us with data that could help track endangered species, monitor diseases and pathogens, and provide insights into how climate change impacts marine life.  

Between April and May, the 11th Hour racing team collected 27 water samples from Itajai in Brazil to Newport, Rhode Island, in the US, which were then sent and analyzed by the Cawthron Institute in New Zealand. The samples were collected through an onboard OceanPack, a specialized instrument that measures various ocean data such as salinity, temperature, carbon dioxide, etc.

The OceanPack is a seawater flow-through system that pumps two litres of water through eDNA filters that can be used for lab analysis. The samples included genetic materials contained in microbes or shed by thousands of marine species through their waste products and skin cells.  

Each sample the team collected contained millions of pieces of environmental DNA of everything from single-cell organisms to lantern fish to Moray eels. The samples provide an image of ocean life and how it changes throughout the Atlantic Ocean.  

What the researchers from the Cawthron Institute found with the eDNA collection was the relationship between the abundance of ocean bacteria that are able to break down plastic and latitude. Areas with greater plastic degradation were found at lower latitudes. Understanding the geographic spread of these bacteria could provide significant insights into how we can solve the marine plastic crisis. Moreover, eDNA can provide quick results, which can help us address the problems impacting the seas more rapidly.  

This is the first-of-its-kind data collection for racing boats. It has helped to collect four million measurements during the six-month race, many from remote parts of the world where this kind of data is lacking. The Ocean Race hopes to have more vessels collect this type of data in future races.  

The Ocean Race pits the world’s best offshore sailing teams against each other in a marathon around the world. Much like any sporting event, thousands, maybe even millions, of fans and viewers enjoy watching these events. It is an excellent way to inform the public about environmental concerns.

By collecting eDNA during the race, the 11th Hour Racing team, which is already committed to protecting the oceans, is helping scientists and researchers understand the problems of the ocean. If the Ocean Race continues making these eDNA collections a priority during their races, we will have more data that can help us develop solutions and protect our oceans quickly.  

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