Earlier this year, the crew of 43m MV Copasetic hosted a team of scientists on board for two separate week-long expeditions to conduct some ground breaking research off the coast of Florida. Put in motion by the International Seakeepers Society, the research expeditions involved placing a modular laboratory on deck that enabled top scientists from the University of Florida to collect the genomes of sea creatures, and conduct real-time sequencing, in the hopes that these unmapped species may hold the key to new treatments for humans.

MV Copasetic with the modular lab on board.

In January, under the direction of Dr Leonid Moroz, and with the genome-sequencing laboratory placed on the bow, Copasetic made course for the Bahamian island of Bimini. Over the course of the expedition, the team collected over 1000 samples of marine life for analysis in the mobile laboratory. The initial expedition’s principal goal was to assess the functionality of equipment highly sensitive to variable parameters typically associated with fieldwork such as vibrations, humidity and temperature while at sea. Due to Copasetic’s unique and rugged design, this proved very successful.

The mission on board Copasetic provided ground breaking proof of concept that a mobile genome-sequencing laboratory is not only functional, it is invaluable for accurate marine biodiversity investigations. Tissue samples degrade exponentially within hours of collection, compromising their analysis, so the mobile laboratory enabled the preservation and analysis of marine samples that would not otherwise survive transportation to a land-based institution.

“I believe that when more news of this comes out, there is going to be way more demand for expeditions like this.”

While the expedition was an intense couple of weeks for Copasetic’s crew, Captain Ian Van der Watt admits that it was a once-in-a-life-time experience. “I thought that it was a marvelous experience,” he says. “Every now and then you are lucky enough to be included in a significant event and this was one of those occasions. All the crew were very involved because Moroz is so enthusiastic and his enthusiasm carries through everyone. I had never even thought about genomic sequencing, or how it affects anything you do in life. So through him we learned a lot and we are still learning.”

With organisations such as the International Seakeepers Society increasingly gaining recognition in the industry and encouraging the act of converting superyacht ownership into charitable giving, it is likely that we may see more and more yachts engaged in similar projects in the future. “I believe that when more news of this comes out, there is going to be way more demand for expeditions like this,” agrees Captain Van der Watt. “A lot of wealthy individuals want to give back, I am almost certain, they just don’t know how to do it or through who. So the opportunity will arise for these people.”

Scientists on board Copasetic.

“The whole concept is fantastic and from several standpoints,” concludes Captain Van der Watt. “It is so interesting because after a while boating can become quite stale when you are in it for this length of time. You need to have this inspiration and I think it is marvelous inspiration to do something good for both the people that own the boat and the crew involved. A lot of vessels can’t do these major projects because you need to have deck space, you need to have strong cranes because some of them involve submarines or a lot of tenders to run around. So the vessels need to be more specifically designed to that concept, but there are smaller projects that most yachts could be involved with.”

Look out for an interview with Captain Ian Van der Watt, where he discusses the unique operation of an expedition yacht, in an upcoming issue of The Crew Report (out October 2014).

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