Data collection using racing yachts for onboard sampling and deployment of drifter buoys

Beyond facilitating access to hard-to-reach locations, sailboats also provide useful modes of transport for deploying scientific instrumentation. The boats can carry scientific equipment, both for deployment in the ocean, but also for continual measurement by sensors that are permanently onboard. The race boats’ speed means that data from different locations can be captured across short timespans, something which is not achievable by most research vessels. Yachts can also be used to pilot and test new research technology and techniques, such as technology that allows results to be shared in real-time, and the OceanPack – a device which records essential ocean data from aboard the yachts. 


In a racing context, carrying devices that take meteorological measurements is not only beneficial for science partners, but also for the race participants themselves, as it helps to inform and improve weather forecasts that will impact their own decision-making and performances throughout the race. 


Using racing yachts for data collection paves the way for the installation and deployment of measuring devices on other vessels such as fishing or commercial boats, as well as other sailing boats. 



  • Sensors and scientific instrumentation can be installed on sailing boats.
  • The high speeds that are achievable by sailing yachts enable the collection of data across short time spans.
  • Boats can reach specific locations to deploy drifter buoys or Argo floats.

Scientific devices were originally designed for use on large research or commercial vessels. This presented some technical challenges regarding their use and installation aboard racing yachts which falls beyond the scope of their intended applications. As the boats are racing yachts the devices needed to be resilient and also light.

Challenges included operating sampling devices in an environment where there is fluctuating power supply, constant exposure to corrosive humidity, and where operators (i.e. teams and athletes) face immense physical (and psychological) stresses. This meant the devices needed to be user-friendly and simple to operate so that individuals with little specialised training could use them effectively and efficiently under stressful and pressurised conditions. The Ocean Race is collaborating with manufacturers to advance the technology and enhance its reliability for future uses.

Collaboration and partnerships with the science community and scientific institutions

The Ocean Race Science Programme is run in collaboration with various science partners, bringing together organisations and teams to pioneer new approaches to data collection, advance technology to contribute to global standardised data mapping, and increase our knowledge of oceans and their relationships with climate change. It provides a unique, and promising, expansion to observational networks, and enables the development of new sampling technologies (e.g. OceanPack-RACE – developed according to sailors’ and scientists’ specifications).


Partnerships with the scientific community allow the data collected by the racing boats to be processed and quality checked by science partners, and then made available through global open-source databases. Databases include, amongst others, the European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet) and the Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas (SOCAT) – which informs the Global Carbon Budget, itself informing environmental projections and targets. The deployment of drifter buoys, operated by Météo France, contributes to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) drifter programme. 


  • The unique benefits provided by the race: the racecourse’s route through remote corners of the world, as well as the race yachts as vehicles for employing scientific sampling and measuring technology.
  • Organisers and stakeholders’ (teams, athletes, etc.) interest and desire to contribute to scientific research.
  • The science community’s appreciation of the opportunities that The Ocean Race provides for scientific research.
  • Diversity of sailing and scientific stakeholders involved. 

Discussions with partners and start-ups are ongoing following feedback regarding the use of plastic to construct drifter buoys, and the difficulty to recover these at their end of life. The aim would be to deploy either instruments that are water degradable or that can be recovered.


Establishing a set of race regulations that places science at the centre of racing activities

The Ocean Race Teams Sustainability Charter and Code of Conduct was co-created with the teams to express a fleet-wide commitment to sustainable operations and supporting a healthy ocean. The charter includes themes of Advocacy, Science, Learning and Operations. It seeks to get all teams, staff, and sailors to stand up for the ocean through sustainable sailing, team, and personal actions. 


On the science front, teams must pledge to agree to:


  • Supporting science-based decision making.
  • Participating in increasing knowledge and understanding of our ocean.
  • Hosting scientific equipment onboard.
  • Participating in sailor and citizen science programmes.
  • Contributing to the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science in collaboration with The Ocean Race.


Including science within a charter and requiring stakeholders to undertake various science-related activities whilst competing in a sailing race embeds science, as a core value, into race practices. This is unique in the sporting world as it requires teams and athletes to take on environmental responsibilities as well as their existing sporting responsibilities.


  • Awareness of climate change and the importance, and fragility, of oceans. 
  • Desire to protect oceans and sailing’s ‘racetrack’.
  • Understanding the importance of data collection for climate and ocean science.
  • Desire to use sailing and racing beyond sporting objectives, as a platform for scientific research.

Collaboration is key, everyone needs to take part and be responsible for a better future for all. 


Engagement with the teams, partners and host cities  needs to be early on and there is a need to support them in their journey - not as an afterthought or last minute addition. There needs to be someone within each team that is dedicated to Sustainability and maintaining the Sustainability Charter within their team and department. It is important not to underestimate the amount of work needed to maintain the Sustainability Charter and our sustainability goals - assign enough resources!


In an event like The Ocean Race, there are also challenges due to unpredictable circumstances like boat repairs from dismasting or collisions which can increase the footprint and environmental impact of the team and the Race. It is important to have some extra capacity and contingencies to offset unforeseen circumstances like these. 

A unique racecourse that provides access to geographically extreme and data-sparse areas across the planet’s oceans

The underlying premise for The Ocean Race – racing to circumnavigate the world – means that the race naturally takes competitors to some of the most remote areas in the world. This makes it a unique platform for undertaking scientific research as it gives scientists access to remote areas, such as the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, that would otherwise rarely be accessible. Ships sailing outside of regular shipping routes play an essential role in the ability to deploy scientific instrumentation, such as the drifter buoys and Argo floats that are deployed during the race, across under-sampled locations. This affords rare opportunities for gathering data from parts of the planet where little information has been recorded, making the Race a crucial platform for collecting data that is otherwise unattainable and filling data gaps, contributing to furthering our understanding of our oceans. 


  • The underlying premise for The Ocean Race – circumnavigating the world as fast as possible – means that the race will invariably take boats to areas that are infrequently sailed. 
  • The design of the race route (race legs, race stopovers, etc.) will determine where boats go.
  • Sailing race boats allow access to some of the planet’s most remote seas as well as areas outside common shipping and research routes.

The race’s route, with stopovers in different countries, presented logistical challenges regarding the transportation of scientific equipment to stopover ports as well as the shipment of samples, material, and instruments back to scientific partners. For example, shipments were subject to varying import conditions and customs duties depending on their country of origin and destination. 


Working with local scientific institutions helped with equipment, transporting the equipment on person and working diligently with customs before, during and after transport. Logistics for an international science experiment needs to be well planned out in advance and all admin done in advance regarding shipment of equipment and samples etc.

Building block 3 – Embracing local expertise, governance, and ownership of projects

While following the direction and guidance of the IOC, NOCs are best placed to design and implement projects complying with the IOC’s global standards at local level. This means that the IOC can support and promote environmental projects, while benefiting from expertise that the NOCs can provide in the local context through. This implementation method not only promotes local solutions to global problems, but also increases local ownership, empowers local communities, and promotes cooperation between sports, local environmental groups and indigenous peoples.  

In Brazil, for example, the “Brazil Olympic Committee Olympic Forest” project aims to restore a damaged part of the Tefé National Forest in the Amazon and is executed together with the Mamirauá Institute of Sustainable Development. Besides restoration, the project’s objective is to reinforce the sustainable use of the forest by the local community through planting key species such as Brazilian chestnut and açaí or providing training to the local community. 

Training and upskilling of local communities (on mangrove planting/rehabilitation) is one of the main objectives also of the Papua New Guinea Olympic Committee’s “Love Your Coast Project” where they aim to train “Love Your Coast Champions”, who are to lead small conservation projects in their communities

As leader of the Olympic Movement, the IOC is responsible for coordinating relations and actions of all members of the Olympic Movement, including the National Olympic Committees. This ensures that projects and actions can be designed and implemented according to consistent regulations or guidelines, enabling continuity and best practice across the Olympic Movement’s environmental activities. 

While it was important to set up general criteria that all projects would need to comply with to ensure consistency and high quality, providing NOCs with the flexibility to reflect local context and its particular risks and opportunities in how they approach the criteria proved to be equally vital. 


Building block 2 – Establishing principles for admitting National Olympic Committees’ projects to the Olympic Forest network

The IOC’s Executive Board approved several principles that NOCs would have to meet to join the Olympic Forest Network.

To have their project included in the Network, an NOC is required to submit details for the IOC’s review and approval, based on these specific criteria/principles. The review process is coordinated together with environmental experts who provide their feedback to the NOC and have the possibility to carry out field visit whenever relevant.

Projects are required to:

  • Contribute to enhancing climate and nature protection and resilience;
  • Support and be delivered in partnership with local communities;
  • Be developed and implemented in collaboration with the relevant experts and authorities; and
  • Have a long-term maintenance plan in place.

These principles help guide NOCs in the creation of their projects and ensure that all projects that are part of the Network are contribution to climate action and nature protection. The principles also ensure that projects possess certain characteristics and collaborative structures that are to ensure local impact and projects’ long-term viability.

  • Knowledge and understanding of factors that are important for designing and implementing successful nature restoration projects.
  • IOC’s practical experience with the implementation of the Olympic Forest project.
  • Collaboration between sport and nature conservation experts.

Having principles “on paper” does not automatically mean that they will be perfectly implemented and adhered to by the NOCs from the very beginning. 

The application process to this initiative is a learning and improvement path where NOCs, under the guidance of the IOC and of environmental experts, can be guided to ultimately comply with all the requirements of the initiative and to create and implement high quality projects with tangible added value and shared benefits for the ecosystems and the local communities.

Building block 1 – Using an existing initiative (the Olympic Forest) as a blueprint for National Olympic Commit-tees to initiate their own nature restoration projects.

The IOC’s Olympic Forest project – a reforestation initiative launched in Mali and Senegal – generated interest from National Olympic Committees, who expressed their wishes to take action against climate change and to implement similar projects in their own countries.

Following this interest, the IOC launched the Olympic Forest Network, where NOCs could build on the original Olympic Forest project by designing and implementing their own initiatives to restore existing forests, wildlife corridors, coastal watersheds, and ecosystems, as well as implement regenerative agriculture projects.

The Network builds on, and expands, the IOC’s Olympic Forest initiative, helping to profile Olympic Movement’s work that contributes to fighting climate change and conserving nature. It recognises local projects delivered by NOCs according to best practices and within the IOC’s framework. The IOC provides support to NOCs (guidance, technical advice for the application to the network, workshops, webinars and in some cases funding), receives their projects and assesses them using specific criteria. Thanks to its offices located worldwide, IUCN helps the IOC in providing technical feedback about the projects, carrying out field visits and reviewing the technical documentation provided by the NOCs.


  • The IOC’s initial design and implementation of a reforestation project
  • National Olympic Committees’ interest in environmental work
  • The original implementing organisation’s (i.e. IOC) desire to expand its original project and support the organisations driving these secondary projects
  • The collaborative spirit encouraged by the Olympic Movement and facilitated by the IOC’s organisational structure (NOCs as constituents of the Olympic Movement under the leadership of the IOC)
  • Good communication between the IOC and NOCs

The establishment of clear guidelines and criteria for this type of initiative is essential to avoid the multiplication of low-quality projects with low added value and benefits for nature conservation and local communities. Leading by example in this field helps to drive the Olympic Movement into proper planning and proper allocation.

Political will and a mandate for developing a multi-stakeholder initiative to strengthen Inclusive Sustainable Blue Economy in the WIO region

The Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region is recognized globally as a biodiversity hotspot with high ecological and socio-economic value. However, with increased global demand for natural resources, pollution, climate change, and a diversity of unsustainable economic activities, the region’s fragile coastal and marine ecosystems are under threat. In response to this, efforts and innovative solutions are urgently required as a business-as-usual scenario will likely result in the depletion of coastal and marine resources and associated socio-economic benefits. Starting in 2020, to bolster collective leadership between state, private sector, and civil society actors, GIZ’s Western Indian Ocean Governance Initiative (WIOGI) and partners supported discussions to develop a regional multi-stakeholder initiative for an Inclusive Sustainable Blue Economy in the Western Indian Ocean region. This proposal was presented and endorsed during the tenth Nairobi Convention Conference of Parties (Decision CP.10/12) in November 2021.

  • Having an official mandate is an essential success factor for such a participatory, multi-stakeholder, and multi-sectoral process. It helps create ownership for the process and continuous collaboration within the Our Blue Future alliance.


  • It is important to have a clear role for governments in a multi-stakeholder initiative. Without an appropriate role for government actors, their willingness to join the initiative becomes challenging. 

  • Multi-stakeholder and collective leadership approaches are essential to engaging in high-quality dialogue among key actors, an essential basis for forming action-oriented partnerships across the region.

Judy Kosgei/WWF
Political will and a mandate for developing a multi-stakeholder initiative to strengthen Inclusive Sustainable Blue Economy in the WIO region
Multi-stakeholder approach
Involving the private sector
Moving towards implementation and impact on the ground
Judy Kosgei/WWF
Political will and a mandate for developing a multi-stakeholder initiative to strengthen Inclusive Sustainable Blue Economy in the WIO region
Multi-stakeholder approach
Involving the private sector
Moving towards implementation and impact on the ground