11 March 2009

'Darwin and the Adventure' to be funded by the British Council

Update 12 March: Thanks to Miriam in comments and also several emailers for pointing out that this post might lead one to think the Beagle Project has abandoned the idea of rebuilding the Beagle and instead intends to repeat Darwin's circumnavigation aboard Tocorimé. Let me reassure you that this is not the case. The aim here, to quote from the proposal itself, is "to prove the use of a traditionally rigged sailing vessel for modern science at sea, to both simulate and stimulate the creation of a modern version of HMS Beagle for science, education and outreach, and especially for training young scientists."

Big news, everyone! Just this morning we learned that a grant proposal to create a research network around a planned* Beagle Project circumnavigation of South America aboard the Brazilian tall ship Tocorimé has been funded by the British Council!

The tall ship Tocorimé.

Here's our British Council Darwin Now Network grant application summary:
The year 2009 marks the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Without a doubt the greatest influence on Darwin and the development of his theory of evolution came during his travels in and around South America, carried by HMS Beagle and supported by HMS Adventure. Darwin experienced the wonders of the tropical rainforest in Brazil, fossils in Argentina, the uplifting of land in Chile and the remarkable variation of fauna on the Galapagos Islands.

This proposal aims to support the recreation of Darwin’s travels around South America, undertaking new science as part of an international effort to understand and develop a system of DNA-based identification of taxa (DNA barcoding). It will correlate this science at sea on the Brazilian tall ship Tocorimé (Portuguese for Adventure) with a view of the world that Darwin could only dream of - from the International Space Station.

Funding is sought to bring together scientists from South America and the UK, the Tocorimé operators, the organisers of The HMS Beagle Trust and NASA to plan a scientific expedition from Rio to the Galapagos that will throw new light on evolutionary science in a highly visible and exciting way.
More specifically the grant will support:
  • a workshop in Rio de Janeiro "to bring together a new international team to discuss with the Tocorimé operators - cruise logistics, scientific aims, timing, observations from space, public and schools outreach and contribution to the international Census of Marine Life and Consortium for the Barcode of Life"
  • the organisation of "public events in Rio, Buenos Aires, Concepcion and the Galapagos to publicise the results from the cruise and their importance to evolutionary science using internet and teleconferencing technology"
The proposal is led by deep sea researcher and friend of the Beagle Project Dr David Billett, Co-Chair of Ocean Biogeochemistry and Ecosystems, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton and Co-Is include yours truly plus researchers from Brazil and Chile and representatives from the Charles Darwin Foundation in Galapagos and NASA. Additional researchers from The Cape Verde Islands, Uruguay, Argentina and Peru will be invited to participate.

*I say 'planned' because the Tocorimé team is still actively fundraising for the cost of the voyage; there is much work to be done


thedispersalofdarwin said...

I love hearing good news!

Miriam Goldstein said...

Yay! This is awesome! Though I am a bit confused - does this mean that the Beagle Project will now take place on the Tocorime?

Karen James said...

"does this mean that the Beagle Project will now take place on the Tocorime?"

Ack! No. But thanks for letting me know that's how this might come across *hastily scribbles update to post*

Zuri said...

I think this is a great project go on with it. Charles Darwin inspired in the Galapagos Islands because it is the most incredible living museum of evolutionary changes, with a huge variety of exotic species (birds, land animals, plants) not seen anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Instead of pursuing long-haul flights, air miles and a carbon footprint the size of the Galapagos Islands, how about saving both the environment and the money (especially since the British Council is a registered charity), by simply utilising web conferencing and email instead?

If Charles Darwin were alive today, would he approve scientists determinedly flying across the globe, occasionally stopping off to talk about the need for research into and the consequences of mindless air pollution?

Karen James said...

Good point, Anonymous, and the sort of comment I might leave myself. I will raise this possibility with the principal investigator and the British Council.

Karen James said...

Anonymous, I've raised this with the other investigators and I think the following response says it better than I could:

"..for a complex project involving many different nations, all of whom have not worked together before, on a tight schedule with challenging logistics, a meeting of all parties face to face is absolutely vital.

Video conferencing of so many parties and in three languages would be extremely difficult.

To reduce air travel we have organised the project meeting at a central location in South America and have limited participation of those outside the South America at the meeting.

Video conferencing once personal contacts have been made will be a lot easier [moreover not all participants have video conferencing facilities -kj].

The expedition will be primarily by sail. It will raise awareness of the oceans and global change and involve local groups reducing the environmental costs of people joining and leaving the vessel."

..perhaps we should add to our agenda the potential aim of making both the BC-funded workshop and the voyage as a whole carbon-neutral projects, maybe by planting trees in the Atlantic rainforest and encouraging people to give money to similar conservation projects.

Thanks again for your suggestion.

Anonymous said...

Karen, thank you for posting my comment and your replies. Taking into account the mammoth, 30 hour, aviation fuel burning return flight from London to South America, perhaps the practicalities of video conferencing are worth revisiting, even taking into account the delays in awaiting a translation – and especially since the central reason for all this is activity is along the lines of ‘nature and the understanding of the environment’.

Travelling by plane, halfway across the world to plant trees, in order to offset the carbon emissions in getting there (and back) all sounds a little odd! I don’t know how many trees it would require to offset a 30 hour long-haul flight, but I’m sure it’s more than a few! Similarly, a scientist excusing travel by air by planting trees also sounds like an unpersuasive and I fear, a counter-productive argument. “Do as I say, not as I do”. I am not sure that this kind of activity is in the best interests of either the Beagle Project, or the British Council, however it is ‘dressed’.

As I understand it, this blog and the Beagle Project is focused on the rebuilding of HMS Beagle and associated scientific/environmental study. Yet there are far more entries here celebrating Beagle Project members’ personal overseas travels (presumably by air), than there are about the team’s actual rebuilding of the ship. Again, I’m not sure Charles Darwin would be entirely supportive - and with his vastly superior intellect, I imagine he might provide a rather more succinct and insightful response.

Peter Mc said...

Anonymous, if you want to criticize the Project's members in these terms and secopnd guess what Charles Darwin might think please do so with an identity rather than remaining anonymous.

Karen James said...

Anonymous, I published (rather than deleted) your most recent comment here because (A) you are not a spam-bot, (B) your tone is fairly collegial, (C) you seem to be genuinely interested in this project and, most of all, (D) because you are raising an important point about the difficulty of striking a balance between upholding the vision of an environmentally geared organisation on the one hand and trying to minimise the environmental impacts of that same organisation's operations on the other.

You wrote, there are far more entries here celebrating Beagle Project members’ personal overseas travels (presumably by air), than there are about the team’s actual rebuilding of the ship. First of all, these ‘overseas travels’ are not ‘personal’. Second, and more importantly, I would challenge you to explain in detail how you think a small charity such as ours can really go about organising an international project and undertaking an international fundraising campaign without some international travel.

You also wrote (rather presumptuously it must be said): ‘I’m not sure Charles Darwin would be entirely supportive’. Well, we have the closest thing possible, which is the strong support of his living relatives, some of whom are Darwin scholars in their own right and probably know better than you do what Charles Darwin would think. Specifically with regard to the hypocrisy of making long-haul flights as part of an environmental research endeavour, I don’t know what he would think about the trade-offs between the positive and negative consequences of this, and I don’t think you or anyone else for that matter should put words into his mouth about something like this without some evidence, e.g. his responses to similar scenarios in his time.

I want you to know that I struggle to reconcile my real concern about our changing environment with my own impact on that environment, but I think everyone – especially in the developed world – should be struggling with this, not just those that take long-haul flights.

p.s. a return flight from London to Rio produces 2.2 tonnes of CO2, and can be offset by carbon traders such as carbonneutral.com by paying ~£30 towards one of several possible 'portfolios’. I'm not saying that carbon offsetting is perfect (not by a long shot) or that it means we can do whatever we want as long as we throw a little guilt-money at it afterwards, but if a trip is necessary then it is one way to do something rather than nothing.

Rick MacPherson said...

with all due respect, accusations of hypocrisy (anonymous or not) leveled at those who are willing to roll up their sleeves to do the heavy lifting is simply ill spent ire...

i travel for my ocean conservation work...  and i acknowledge that the travel itself is contributing to the global ocean threats from climate change... but i can say with confidence, zero shame, and no sense of hypocrisy that the travel is a necessary component to realizing long-term environmental benefits...

before casting accusations of hypocrisy about travel in the service of environmental awareness, it might be worthwhile to consider what meaningful impacts are resulting from that travel... al gore pumped tens of thousands of tons of carbon into the atmosphere while singlehandedly raising the volume and seriousness of discussion (and action) around climate change issues... mindless air pollution? not by my measure...

and while the beagle project should of course consider environmental efficiency in all its efforts, the media interest/message penetration they can garner through a high profile project partnership as described above sends a powerful message that no email campaign can hope to garner...

unless technologies radically change in CO2 scrubbing efficiencies, there's no way to have zero impacts... it's easy to suggest teleconferencing and emails as a sustainable alternative, but emails and videophones don't do the confidence-building and physical building (yes, hard labor) that's always necessary in biodiversity conservation work... the best any of us can do is reduce our ecological footprint where possible and expand our efforts to spread the word and create incentives to follow our lead...

if efforts such as the beagle project (through media attention and being high profile) can get even deeper/broader/meaningful message penetration, this conservationist sees no hypocrisy...

Goetz Kluge said...

I could "decode" some of the illustrations of Henry Holiday in Lewis Carrolls The Hunting of the Snark: http://www.snrk.de/picscollection.pdf (especially pages 20-21)

I think, in the Snark several storys from real life are interwoven, one of them being about Charles Darwin and a expedition with two ships. I am not as sure here as with other assumptions.

It may be interesting for those, who know about Darwin, his reseaerch, his conflicts etc. to read the Snark again.

Best regards from Munich

Klimbsac said...


· We have just added your latest post "'Darwin and the Adventure' to be funded by the British Council" to our Directory of Grant Programs . You can check the inclusion of the post here . We are delighted to invite you to submit all your future posts to the directory for getting a huge base of visitors to your website and gaining a valuable backlink to your site.

Warm Regards

Project Grant Team


Goetz said...

Update on "The Hunting of the Snark" and Darwin: http://holiday.snrk.de/BellmanBeagle.htm

Happy new year!