International SeaKeepers Society Responding to BP Spill

BP oil spill off Alabama

With yachts and megayachts of varying sizes successfully avoiding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, you may wonder why the International SeaKeepers Society is getting involved. Simple: Its proprietary SeaKeeper 1000 data-acquisition system is helping government agencies, scientists, and others collect much-needed information on dilute hydrocarbons.

With the assistance of the University of South Florida and YSI, a company that develops and manufactures sensors and related data-collection items for environmental monitoring and testing, the International SeaKeepers Society has successfully adapted a proven hydrocarbon sensor. That sensor is now working with a SeaKeeper 1000 unit aboard the research vessel WeatherBird II in the Gulf of Mexico. The goal is to map both the oil plumes and the extent to which the oil continues to spread across the water and towards shore throughout the region.

Here’s how it works. The SeaKeeper unit allows seawater (and therefore the oil) to flow through a dedicated section. The sensors within that section collect data, which is then combined with GPS data to permit rapid mapping. This information is recorded by an onboard computer and transmitted via satellite to servers maintained by the nonprofit Society. Scientists and government officials have free access to this data.

The SeaKeepers Society is collaborating with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to install sensors on its National Marine Sanctuaries vessels. In addition, Carnival Cruise Lines will soon add the hydrocarbon sensors to the existing SeaKeeper 1000 units on its Triumph, Legend, and Miracle ships. Cruising out of New Orleans, Tampa and New York, respectively, the ships will help in two ways. First, they’ll be operating in some waters unaffected by the BP oil spill, so that will help establish a baseline reading. Second, they’ll map the extremely dilute hydrocarbon plumes at the shelf break, in the loop current, and eventually in the Gulf Stream.

Perhaps even more significant, a smaller, portable hydrocarbon sensor was recently installed on a 21-foot boat owned by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. This new sensor is especially promising because it can be installed on the gunwale or transom of a variety of small craft—especially the “vessels of opportunity,” a.k.a. private boats donated to the research and cleanup cause—within hours. The SeaKeeper 1000 unit requires a through-hull fitting, so unless a vessel is already equipped with it, time is not on the side of the Society nor the interested parties.

The International SeaKeepers Society is actively seeking more donations so that it can continue installing sensors on other units and help fund the related research. The nonprofit organization and its partners are also working on refinements to the sensors so that they can operate more efficiently close to shore. Visit the website to learn how you can contribute.

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