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August 12, 2014

Sailing through the Baltic on the Sea Dragon

© OCEANA / Carlos Minguell


I was invited to take part in a research expedition in the Baltic Sea arranged by Örebro University and Pangaea Exploration, which I gratefully said yes to. The expedition has been running since the beginning of August, but I joined them on Saturday. So now I find myself miles from the nearest coast, on board the “Sea Dragon”, a Global Challenge Vessel, and part of a small but enthusiastic crew. The goal of this expedition is to study marine litter, a growing problem for the world’s oceans.

I have participated in at-sea expeditions before with Oceana, but this is the first time that I am going to join an expedition on a sailboat. My earlier experiences at sea were with the motor yacht Hanse Explorer, a certified ice breaker, with its very own cabins. This time it’s going to be a totally different experience, but I will certainly learn a thing or two about sailing.

We are heading for the Bothnian Bay, in the northernmost part of the Baltic Sea. I have previously visited this sub-basin during Oceana’s earlier expeditions, where we studied the seafloor with an ROV, bottom samples and dives. Back then, we took samples from the deepest parts of the Bothnian Bay, and filmed the Baltic isopod (Saduria entomon) crawling on the seafloor at depths of 100 m.  We also collected samples from the northeastern part of the Finnish Baltic Sea, where we have proposed an area to be protected.

This week we are going to study marine litter in the sub-basin of the Bothian Bay. Marine litter is worrying because very little information on its consequences exists. Disturbingly, newer research shows that micro-plastic influences the digestive systems of zooplankton, which are at the bottom of the food chain. Because of this, it is thought that micro-plastic can then accumulate throughout the whole food chain. Very worrying, I would say.

Marine litter and micro-plastic in the seas come from people, and their waste. On our 2011-expedition, I remember that we filmed a white plastic bag in the deepest part of Gotland basin; a sad reminder of the negative impact that human beings have on nature.