Cruisers Can Help!

Want to help out a good cause the next time you're at sea? Check out Matt Rutherford's latest project, and get involved!

cownose ray
The Cownose Ray migration pattern.CW

I almost missed Carl Richards and his wife, Ardy, before they set off down Chesapeake Bay. We managed to meet up in Solomons Island just before their big push south so I could give them a special device that listens for tagged marine species. Carl and Ardy are fulfilling a dream in their retirement, leaving lake sailing in the Midwest for life aboard a Saga 43 called Northern Star.

They are bound for a decade of exploring the East Coast, Bahamas and possibly beyond. Carl, a former scientist with the EPA, caught wind of Ocean Research Project’s latest initiative, one that calls on cruisers who want to sail for science and education.

Carl is no stranger to shipbased oceanographic research. Ready to mix science with play, he promptly signed up for our Fish Finder Program, which ORP’s director, Matt Rutherford, and I launched at a single- and doublehanding seminar during the 2015 U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis. At the show, couples like Carl and Ardy expressed their interest in contributing to ocean sustainability while underway.

For these sailors and others, we designed the Fish Finder Program to be very user-friendly. When you’re on the hook or at a marina, just hang the device overboard well below the keel, but above the seabed, to give it ample room to listen for fish. Jot down a few notes about where you are and when you raised and lowered the device, and we’ll do the rest.

We are still looking for volunteer cruisers, preferably sailing the U.S. coast, to serve as Fish Finders.

By crowdsourcing data together, we can capture the whereabouts and track the behavior of critical fish species. With the help of Dr. Matt Ogburn at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, collected data will be dispersed to the global network of scientists studying the detected species. Ogburn is most interested in the poorly understood cownose ray. Like cruisers, rays move south for the winter toward Florida, but little is known of their activity. Scientists fear overfishing and have turned to bioacoustic population studies to best advise fishery managers and state officials. This is where cruisers can help.

To learn more about our active Fish Finders, or apply for the program, check out the Ocean Research Project’s website www.oceanresearchproject.org