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Yacht owners helping track oceans' health
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The hulls of 55 luxury yachts owned by some of the nation's wealthiest men and women have holes where seawater pours in.
But the water poses no threat to publisher Steve Forbes, Microsoft's Paul Allen, Amway's Rich De Vos or the others. The water is being pumped in by environmental monitoring devices installed in their yachts by the International Seakeepers Society, a South Florida-based group they joined.
The $56,000 devices check the water's salinity, clarity, color, temperature, oxygen level and the health of its microscopic plants. They then automatically send the data, along with weather information and the yacht's location by satellite to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The information helps the government improve global weather forecasts and track oceanic conditions.
"Maybe we can find out why we have red tide, why we have global warming and all of the other things we are concerned about," said Lee Anderson, the group's new chairman and CEO of APi Group Inc., a Minnesota-based security company. He lives in Naples on Florida's southwest coast.
Some freighters carry less sophisticated monitoring devices, but they traverse much less of the ocean, sticking primarily to shipping lanes. Luxury yachts travel much more broadly, going places such as the islands of the South Pacific or the Caribbean where large freighters rarely reach.
"The data is good quality and is from areas we don't often get data from," said Paul Morersdorf, director of NOAA's data buoy project. "The shipping guys are concerned about getting there quickly -- time is money. But the yacht owners go to different ports and they like to take their time."
The society was founded three years ago by Albert Gersten, a Los Angeles real estate developer. The yacht owners pay a minimum of $50,000 to join, but many give $250,000 or more.
"One day it just came to me that this wasn't being done, and I thought it would be a marvelous mission," Gersten said.
He approached the University of Miami's Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, which developed the devices. They are about the size of a microwave oven set on its side.
The project cost about $3 million, with the money coming from the government, grants, the Seakeepers and private businesses.