Crowdsourcing and Citizen Oceanography: Indigo V Expedition Pioneers Cost-Effective Ocean Health Monitoring

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Pioneering work by a collaboration of leading scientists from twelve universities across Australia, Singapore, Denmark and the USA publishing in the open access journal PLOS Biology on September 9 demonstrates how the rise of citizen oceanography will help dramatically advance global ocean health and will aid in gaining a better understanding of the world’s valuable marine resources.

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PLOS Biology

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While much attention is placed on macro-fauna in our seas (mammals and fish, for example), it is the tiny, marine microbes that underpin the nutrient cycle and form the foundation of the food web. Collectively known as the marine microbiome, they are the most abundant organisms in the oceans, and they are perhaps the most vulnerable in a changing global ocean.

Because the ocean is a dynamic and tremendously large eco-system, millions of observation points are required. However, traditional oceanographic research vessels are unable to cover this vast space. “By using what’s known as ‘citizen science’, Indigo V Expeditions set out to prove that the concept of crowdsourcing oceanography can solve the great data collection bottleneck” said Professor Federico Lauro, Director of Indigo V Expeditions, the not-for-profit organisation behind the S/Y Indigo V concept cruise.

Over six months, the scientists sailed S/Y Indigo V 6,500 nautical miles across the Indian Ocean, from Cape Town to Singapore. During the voyage they established a baseline of data from the Indian Ocean and developed instrumentation called the Ocean Sampling Microbial Observatory (OSMO) that will likely lead to significant advances in the field of oceanography. By harnessing modern technology and equipping as many ocean-going vessels as possible with small instrumentation, scientists will be able to collect invaluable and large-scale data sets about bacteria, plankton and the marine eco-systems that have never been possible before.

“We were able to run an entire scientific expedition across never before sampled waters for less than what it costs to run an oceanographic vessel for one day” added Professor Lauro.

During the voyage, the S/Y Indigo V team proved that the concept of citizen oceanographers aboard yachts can make a valuable contribution to oceanography at a fraction of the cost of traditional research vessels. Yachts sail along established cruising routes so data can be reliably collected year after year, over the same time and place.

Professor Joe Gryzmski, Lead Expedition Scientist and last author, explained the vital importance of the study: “Oceans serve as the primary ‘respiratory’ and ‘nutrient cycling’ machine for the entire planet. If the oceans are in peril, mankind is in peril. With world population on the rise, now more than ever, understanding global ocean microbiome health is of urgent priority”.


Lauro FM, Senstius SJ, Cullen J, Neches R, Jensen RM, et al. (2014) The Common Oceanographer: Crowdsourcing the Collection of Oceanographic Data. PLoS Biol 12(9): e1001947. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001947,


Rachelle Jensen, +65 9725 2884,


The authors acknowledge financial support from the School of BABS (University of New South Wales), the ithree Institute (University of Technology Sydney), the Costerton Biofilm Center (University of Copenhagen), the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (Nanyang Technological University) and the Desert Research Institute. RN was supported by an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant to Jonathan A. Eisen. FML was supported by a fellowship from the Australian Research Council (DE120102610). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests:

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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