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Meet the Crew Monday: Researcher Abi

What is your name, where are you from and how old are you? 

I'm Abi, I'm 22 and from Northern Ireland but have lived in a few different places.  

What inspired you to join the crew of Bark EUROPA, how did you join the crew? 

I always loved the idea of sailing on a tall ship, exploring, learning about, and living in connection with the oceans, but previously it seemed like a pipe dream for me. My university advertised the opportunity to join Europa on a voyage as a student researcher- I was super excited so applied right away!  

What is your role on board as a researcher? 

Everyone onboard has a deep connection to, and understanding of, our oceans. They play a huge role in all of our lives and we all recognise that. My role is to share my understanding of the ocean and learn from others. I carry out research projects, activities, and talks- involving everyone onboard- to discover more about the seas we sail and what they mean to each of us. My aim is for everyone to grow in connection to the natural environment, learning from other people’s perspectives, and feeling empowered by our shared passion for the seas. 

Can you tell us more about your past projects on board? 

On my last voyage, I conducted research on whether ocean acidification from carbon dioxide is affecting plankton. This meant I would use a plankton net to collect samples everyday and every night, and do water tests. I carried out onboard talks, made educational posters, and spoke to members of the public at tall ships events. Everyone onboard was involved in one way or another- from setting up the trawls to sharing what we had learnt with friends back home.   

Can you tell us more about your research project during the ocean crossing? 

I’m hoping to run two separate projects- one will be on collecting microplastics in different locations to work out where they came from. This will contribute to my masters and will involve using a manta trawl and searching for plastics amongst debris like seaweed, then a lot of lab analysis and computer modelling when I get home. 

The second one will be carrying out bird surveys for the E-Bird database. This is something anyone can contribute to no matter where you are so check out the E-Bird app! I will gather some volunteers (hopefully willing ones) and we’ll record all the bird species we see in a set amount of time. This will be a great way to learn more about the wildlife we pass along the way and will contribute to E-Bird’s citizen science project. 

Both projects will require a lot of help from everyone onboard so I’m hoping to recruit lots of volunteers!  

What is it like to live and work on a tall ship like Bark EUROPA? 

Living and working on Europa is like no other experience. Every day you wake up to a new view, andare completely reliant on the ocean. It really helped me appreciate the vastness and endless curiosities of our planet. Plus- I have met some of the most interesting people, whose pathsI would never ordinarily cross, but have learnt so much from in the process of sailing together.  

What do you do when you are not on the ship? 

When I'm not on the ship, I attend Bangor University as a student, and am currently working on a Masters by Research course. I live in North Wales so get to explore local beaches and mountains in my free time. One of my favourite things to do is wonder around in the wilderness, identifying creatures, looking for new things, and drawing what I find. Last week- I found some really funky caterpillars!  

Could you tell us about a unique destination you've visited on board EUROPA and what made it special? 

When I last sailed with Europa, we embarked from the Azores, a chain of islands with stunning natural beauty and a deep maritime history. Exploring the local wildlife is magical as every species is new and interesting. I went on a walk and took photos of all kinds of birds I’d never seen before, hoping to identify them later but got home only to realise there was no SD card in my camera!  

Can you share a funny or unexpected moment that happened during one of your voyages? 

A funny moment that happened on my last voyage was when I woke up to do a plankton trawl at 4am to find that we had sailed through a jellyfish bloom. The net was full of jellyfish that I then had to sieve out of the sample. I counted 66 in total, got mildly stung in the process, and swore to check for jellyfish in the future. 

What's the most memorable moment you've experienced while sailing on Bark EUROPA? 

A really memorable moment for me was when one of the deckhands encouraged me to climb the foremast. I’m really scared of hights and actually thought I was going to die but did it (with some gentle encouragement) and we stayed up on the yard for ages admiring the endless sea and talking about out journey. It was a symbol for me of how far I’d pushed my comfort zones to be here and how well it had paid off. Having a crew around you to celebrate in your highs and help you up in your lows is an incredibly special feeling. 

What is the most important lesson you've learned from your experiences on Bark EUROPA? 

It’s hard to sum up the important lessons I have learnt onboard Europa. I pushed my comfort zones further than I thought possibleand made the most of every opportunity. I learnt to adapt to unexpected situations, not to let setbacks stop me, but most importantly, to trust in the goodness of other people.  

Are there any unique traditions or rituals that the crew follows on board Bark EUROPA? 

One important Europa ritual I experienced was how people find time and space for themselves. As an introvert, I soon found that I needed alone time amongst the business of life onboard. When I mentioned this to some other crewmembers, they explained their ways of finding space. It often requires finding a one-person job in an odd part of the ship. The deckhand would find something to do on the bow sprint or up the masts, the engineer would be busy in the bowls of the ship, I would sit in the library counting plankton or reading up on my work. Alone time is sacred for me and I love that everyone has their own way of carving it out for themselves. 

Can you share an interesting behind-the-scenes story or fun fact about the ship that most people may not know? 

Before I sailed with Europa, I completely underestimated the level of craftsmanship that goes into every aspect of maintaining a tall ship. For example, every block is taken apart, sanded with various degrees of sandpaper, and painted with several layers of varnish, which are mixed to various recipes, in a specific order, so that the lines run smoothly. This might be obvious to a more experienced sailor but was something I was completely unaware of until I lived onboard. 

How has being a part of Bark EUROPA's crew influenced your perspective on the ocean and the environment? 

Being part of the crew has deepened my respect for the world’s oceans. I aspire to learn as much as I can about our natural environment and live as sustainably as possible. Sailing with the crew broadened my horizons and introduced me to people who love the oceans just as deeply and I do but in an entirely different way and for entirely different reasons. Climate change, habitat destruction, and pollution are all heartbreaking and overwhelming issues that cannot be ignored, but the depth of reverence that many people have for the sea through cultures and experiences so far from my own has led me to understand how the sea connects us all. I hope we can learn from one another and develop more sustainable societies. 

Is there anything else you haven't mentioned now and would like to share? 

If you have the means to sail with Europa- definitely check out what we’re doing as I truly believe life onboard provides a captivating and valuable journey for all explorers from all backgrounds. But if for you this feels like a pipe dream (as it did for me)don’t let that stop you from exploring the outdoors and learning to live closer to nature in whatever way is accessible to you. The outdoors is for everyone!

🌊 Join the Ocean Crossing from Cape Town to Montevideo and help Abi on with her research project! 🌊

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