Three scholars join fight to protect our ocean's health

Protecting our oceans’ health is never the work of a moment but a significant step has been taken with the appointment of three Sky Ocean Rescue ambassadors..

By Matteo De Giuli
Published 24 Apr 2018, 14:50 BST
The three successful Sky Ocean Rescue scholars (l-r): Dr Annette Fayet, Dr Martina Capriotti and Imogen ...
The three successful Sky Ocean Rescue scholars (l-r): Dr Annette Fayet, Dr Martina Capriotti and Imogen Napper.
Photograph by National Geographic

Dr Martina Capriotti, Imogen Napper and Dr Annette Fayet were granted the Sky Ocean Rescue scholarship at ceremony in Rome, Italy.

The awards provide a chance to further extend and develop their research on some crucial aspects of our oceans’ health.

Sky Ocean Rescue is an environmental campaign launched by Sky one year ago in order to raise awareness about marine conservation and the impact of increasing levels of plastic in our oceans. The scholarship is a programme offered in partnership with National Geographic.

The award ceremony took place during the “Ocean Rescue for a Better Future” event at the National Geographic Festival of Science in Rome. The panel took the opportunity to discuss one of the biggest challenges of our time: ocean pollution and the alarming effect of plastic. Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, Gary Knell (CEO National Geographic Partners), Jeremy Darroch (Group Chief Executive Officer Sky), coordinated by Marco Cattaneo, chief editor of National Geographic Magazine Italy, discussed the current state of the art of the issue and some plans to take action.

The three winners of the Sky Ocean Rescue scholars were made during the "Ocean Rescue for a Better Future" event in Rome, Italy.
Photograph by National Geographic

National Geographic Society has a long history of supporting marine research and underwater exploration programmes since the very dawn of ocean conservation, in the Fifties. Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a pioneer in the field, received 37 grants from the Society. More recently, the photographic exploration of Antarctica's ice shelves by Paul Nicklen, funded by the Society, have succeeded in showing us how fragile ice sheet are today, even in Antarctica.

And there are plenty of scientific research that don’t get the news but is still vital for the health of our ocean. In the last five years alone, from 2012-2017, National Geographic Society awarded over than 500 ocean-based projects, including conservation of coastal dolphins in southern Chile, coupling critter-cams with bio-loggers to study shark attack physiology and behaviour, and improved conservation management by the Galapagos National Park.

Now, the partnerships with Sky will give birth to the most important international media campaign ever realised about the reduction of marine plastic pollution. “We’ve just begun to work together. We are committing 10 million dollars to this venture”, announced Gary Knell during the panel. “As a big business in Europe we got a very powerful voice”, said Jeremy Darroch, “and we decided not or walk pass these issues, but to use our voice”.

National Geographic Society has a long history of supporting marine research and underwater exploration, as outlined by Sylvia Earle, one of the pioneers of ocean research and exploration and the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Photograph by National Geographic

Half of the plastic on Earth has been produced in the past thirteen years, and today we produce 330 million tonnes of plastic a year. It is estimated that about 4 million to 12 million of those tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean, resulting in water pollution, damage to marine species and a huge and still unknown impact on the ecosystem. In this scenario scientific research plays a fundamental role.

Sky Ocean Rescue scholarship goes in this direction. Capriotti, Napper and Payette will benefit from the scholarship in order to study issues regarding ocean health, help raise awareness and becoming ambassadors of the cause. In particular, Capriotti’s project concerns a new approach to test the chemical impact of micro-plastic on the marine life of her native Italian coast, thus providing authorities a useful tool to understand the real toll of microplastic pollution on our planet. Napper’s research, too, deals with the negative effect of micro-plastic: the Ph. D student from Plymouth University is working on a technology to capture polluting fibres released when washing clothes, a project that could help educate public opinion on the outcomes of their lifestyle.

Watch Sky Ocean Rescue Scholar Martina Capriotti

Sky Ocean Rescue - Martina Capriotti

Last but not least, the grant will allow Dr. Annette Fayet from Oxford University to continue her study of an innovative technology based on machine learning to understand the cause of puffin population decline. Such a method could also be applied to other endangered seabird species and inspire effective conservation measures.

Sylvia Earle, one of the pioneers of ocean research and exploration, the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, underlined the importance of raising awareness among the public opinion about marine life protection: “What happens to the ocean affects every form of life on Earth”, Earle said in Rome. “We do now understand that our own very existence depends on the ocean, but we are just beginning to wrap our heads around this problem”. When she first started this job, more than forty years ago, the health of our oceans was much different. “We lost a lot since then. We’ve learned more, we’ve lost more. But now we know”. We know that the ocean is not too big to fail, but at least nowadays we can rely on a deeper knowledge of the problem and improved tools to cope with it. “Now there’s hope to reverse the trend”, she concluded. Trusting young and motivated scholars to expand that knowledge using the resources of cutting-edge technology is the way to go.

The Sky Ocean Rescue scholarships are designed to aid and develop key projects in helping understand our ocean's health and how we can protect it.
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