Expedition cruise passengers. Credit: Canva

Why expedition cruise passengers are joining citizen science programmes

Author: Dave Monk

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Not all heroes wear capes: some just wear anoraks. From counting penguins to photographing whales, more expedition cruise passengers are joining citizen science programmes to help conduct vital environmental research, says Dave Monk

Viking’s twin 378-passenger expedition ships carry submarines so guests can help to study ocean and marine life such as giant jellyfish. They are also the world’s only commercial vessels that launch weather balloons, an essential tool for climate forecasters.

In Antarctica and the Great Lakes of North America, passengers can go on deck to watch or participate in the release of these helium-filled spheres, which measure temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction.

Viking MD Wendy Atkin-Smith says, “Wherever they travel in the world, our guests are curious and keen to learn about each destination. That’s why we provide reading lists and filmographies before each voyage, and once on board guests can enjoy daily briefings, lectures and sessions in the laboratory with our chief scientists. On shore, guests also like to participate on a deeper, more hands- on level by assisting in fieldwork.”

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Viking’s seven-night Niagara and the Great Lakes cruise aboard Viking Octantis departs from Toronto on
9 May 2024.

Whale of a time

New expedition entrant Atlas Ocean Voyages is one of the lines collaborating with Orca, the marine conservation charity that studies and protects whales, dolphins, porpoises and their habitats.

On voyages to the Arctic and Antarctic, ocean conservationists raise awareness and involve passengers in citizen science projects.

By using an app, guests can track and photograph the behaviour and movement of these marine mammals, obtaining data that Orca has used over the past three decades to improve protection measures for whales and dolphins in ocean hotspots.

The line’s president and CEO, James Rodriguez, says, “Together with Orca, we look forward to fostering a deeper connection between our travellers and the incredible marine life they will encounter, ensuring a meaningful and enriching experience for all.”

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Atlas Ocean Voyages’ 10-night Gateway to Glaciers cruise aboard World Voyager departs from Kangerlussuaq (Greenland) on 15 August 2024.

Counting penguins isn't quite a complicated as it seems. Credit: Canva

Plastic pollution

We’ve all seen distressing pictures of turtles entangled in carrier bags, but microplastics – fragments under 5mm – are a hazard all the way up the food chain. On excursions with AE Expeditions, passengers scoop seawater into buckets and sieve it for these tiny pieces, which are then sorted and recorded for analysis back on board.

Expedition leader John Kirkwood says, “Plastics in the ocean may take centuries to break down, often persisting as tiny pieces that may be ingested by marine life. Humans who eat seafood can then consume the microplastics that smaller organisms have ingested. Seabirds can have their guts clogged by so much plastic that they are unable to digest their food and eventually die.”

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AE Expeditions’ 14-night Antarctic Peninsula in Depth cruise aboard Greg Mortimer departs from Ushuaia (Argentina) on 6 November 2024.

Pick out a penguin

Counting penguins may sound an almost impossible task, considering their quantity and speed in the water. But that’s what travellers with HX, formerly Hurtigruten Expeditions, do in partnership with Penguin Watch – by zooming in on images and videos.

The important information they gather on colony numbers helps shape global policies in the polar region. The research runs in parallel with other projects such as Southern Ocean Seabird Surveys, measuring the distribution of birds across the area and helping researchers understand how avian behaviour may be changing.

Overall, HX supports more than 20 research projects, including eight citizen science programmes, and estimates that passengers will contribute more than 16,000 items of data in 2024.

Head of guest learning, Dr Emily Baxter, says, “Curious travellers come to HX to be part of adventurous expeditions that broaden their understanding of the world. Our expert team is dedicated to exploring in a responsible way, with science at the heart of our experiences.”

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HX’s 11-night Highlights of Antarctica cruise aboard Fridtjof Nansen departs from Buenos Aires on 7 December 2024.

Guests upload their observations via a Nasa app to a satellite as it passes overhead. Credit: Shutterstock

On cloud nine

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,” sang Joni Mitchell.

Swan Hellenic guests get to do something similar as they collect cloud data for climate research, measuring how much sunlight is absorbed by the Earth and the amount of heat that escapes into space. During cruises to Antarctica, the Svalbard archipelago and Greenland, guests upload their observations via a Nasa app to a satellite as it passes overhead.

Expedition guide Carine Zimmermann says, “Normally we offer a cloud survey on sea days when it’s not conflicting with mealtimes or other programmes. Most of this research is conducted from land, so citizen science is very helpful at filling in the gaps from the ocean.”

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Swan Hellenic’s 13-night Antarctic Peninsula in Depth cruise aboard SH Vega, return from Ushuaia, departs on 15 December 2024.

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