Research, educate, protect and restore

The International SeaKeepers Society promotes oceanographic research, conservation, and education through direct involvement with the yachting community by enabling yacht owners to take full advantage of their unique potential to advance marine sciences and to raise awareness about global ocean issues. In the past 12 months, this Florida-founded not-for-profit organisation has expanded its outreach to the US West Coast and internationally into Asia. Daniel Barnes spoke to the society’s President and CEO, Richard Snow, to discover more.

The International SeaKeepers AssociationThe vast majority of people who are fortunate enough to find themselves onboard a luxury yacht are there for, as the name suggests, luxury. Whether it’s sailing around the coastline of the Mediterranean, island hopping in the Caribbean or sailing around the planet’s countless other exotic destinations, as a guest onboard one of these yachts, arguably the most brainpower you have to use is deciding where to anchor for the evening.

But an American-based not for profit organisation has spent just shy of two decades using these elegant vessels of the seas to conduct important environmental and scientific research. 

The International SeaKeepers Society was founded in 1998 by a small group of yacht owners who were alarmed by the deterioration of their natural environment, especially the oceans. Its initial focus was on the development and use of instrumentation on yachts to monitor marine conditions throughout the world’s oceans, and today, the society still continues to work with yachts as a vital part of its programming.

“Yacht owners have a unique opportunity and position to use their vessels to truly help research, educate, protect and restore, thus ensuring the longevity of our oceans for generations to come,” said SeaKeepers President and CEO, Richard Snow.

The society relies on the generosity of the elite yachting community to donate time onboard its yachts. In fact, the contribution of a vessel can immediately eliminate ownership costs and considerably reduce an individual’s income tax burden in the US.

And it has a number of high profile supporters too. Instead of selling his ultimate modern commuter yacht VENDETTA, American singer Billy Joel generously donated it to SeaKeepers in 2016.

DISCOVERY Yachts Programme

Using its member yachts, SeaKeepers works with experts in the marine science and oceanography fields to promote and facilitate ground-breaking research.

“Each scientific expedition is unique and is organised with both the science and yacht in mind,” said Mr Snow. “Our efforts eliminate vessel costs and permit scientists to allocate those funds to maximise research potential.”

SeaKeepers’ foremost initiative is its DISCOVERY Yachts Programme which comprises of scientific expeditions, instrument deployments, and educational outreach events. SeaKeepers collaborates with numerous organisations, academic institutions, and government agencies in order to accomplish its DISCOVERY Yacht missions. These scientific expeditions provide yacht owners, guests and crew the opportunity to participate in ongoing research while engaging with influential, well-known marine scientists.

“These programmes have involved yacht owners as well as the local community and have successfully exhibited environmental leadership and SeaKeepers’ dedication to oceanic conservation,” explained Mr Snow, an avid sailor and sports fisherman who took up his SeaKeepers position in December 2012, following over two decades spent building up a successful chain of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream stores along the east coast of the United States from Delaware to Georgia.

The small but dedicated team that makes up SeaKeepers’ staff works closely with yacht owners and crew to coordinate research and outreach activities that reflect the yacht owner’s ocean-related interests. The degree of participation can vary from an afternoon outreach trip with children, a ten-minute instrument deployment while a yacht is en route to its next port, to week-long expeditions with a team of expert researchers.

Over its lifespan, the organisation has worked with what Mr Snow described as “a number of outstanding researchers”. He added: “SeaKeepers’ greatest scientific achievement is not necessarily one particular trip, but is the fact that we have been able to support long-term research with institutions.

“Genome sequencing with the University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience and shark research with the University of Miami’s Shark Research and Conservation Program are two initiatives that the organisation has supported with multiple trips over the past few years.”

Outreach expansion

In total, the 2016 SeaKeepers programme included 13 scientist-led expeditions, six educational outreach trips, the deployment of over 30 instruments and 18 community events; numbers that Mr Snow hopes will be beaten this year.

“SeaKeepers is always looking to go above and beyond our previous accomplishments both through our new partnerships and with our expeditions that are happening worldwide,” he said. “The number of expeditions accomplished is a primary way to gauge achievements but the organisation also values the addition of new vessels and the diversity of the research supported. 2017 has already involved new DISCOVERY Yachts and has seen an increase in the number of citizen-science projects which adds to our ability to support ongoing research projects dependent upon community involvement.”

With a membership currently consisting of over 400 names across general, DISCOVERY Yacht and Top Tier member subscription packages, SeaKeepers is expanding its global reach. In 2016, the society set up SeaKeepers West Coast, based in California, and a Singaporean chapter, SeaKeepers Asia.

“Both chapters have strengthened our presence in regions where vessels are prominent,” acknowledged Mr Snow. “They have provided more opportunities to engage with vessel owners and generate interest in the DISCOVERY Yachts Programme. SeaKeepers Asia has strengthened the educational programme by further developing curriculum and activities which can be implemented, whilst the West Coast chapter has helped to establish partnerships with research facilities in the region, such as Scripps Institution of Oceanography.” 

From an education view point, research conducted through the society’s DISCOVERY Yachts Programme has been shared by scientists in numerous publications, TV shows, and in the curriculum, thus reaching thousands of people globally.

The society has received support and established programming partnerships from many leading names in the yachting world. That said, Mr Snow was keen to highlight the particular work of a Miami-based yacht chartering company.

“SeaKeepers would like to give a special thank you to Fleet Miami for being a consistently reliable and willing partner,” acknowledged the CEO. “The largest expense, and often limiting factor, in ocean research, is access to an at-sea research platform.

Your yacht next?

Moving forward, Mr Snow stated the society’s overall mission is “to engage yacht owners all over the world to support marine research on their vessels by expanding the impact of the DISCOVERY Yachts Programme while bringing attention to local efforts that support ocean research and conservation”.

And for those yacht owners who have considered donating their vessels in the past but never got around to it, or were unaware of the idea, Mr Snow said that every little helps; just a few hours onboard such an impressive yacht could inspire a child on one of the society’s many educational visits to follow a career as a marine biologist.

“Yacht owners do not always see the potential they have to utilise their vessels for the greater good, so we place a lot of focus on spreading our mission to the yachting community. We welcome any and all interested yacht owners to volunteer their yachts to expand our DISCOVERY Yachts resources.”

For more information visit: www.seakeepers.org