Arzucan Nur Askin, a Biodiversity, Conservation and Management MSc student at Jesus College and the University of Oxford School of Geography and Environment, is to lead a new expedition that will examine human connections to the sea, and highlight the global marine issues facing our local UK coastlines.

Arzucan Nur Askin

Arzucan Nur Askin

The Oxford Anthroposea Expedition, which launches at the end of May, will see a predominantly female team of marine social scientists set sail along the eastern coast of the UK on a research project that aims to raise awareness of major marine issues, and the integral role that the social sciences hold in improving democratic, informed decision-making for our global seas. The team will also explore how coastal and oceanic realms have become socio-culturally constructed.

The Expedition coincides with the start of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for interdisciplinary and regionally-driven action, and the centenary of women’s admission to Oxford. Arzucan explains, "2021 is a very important year for ocean governance and researchers conducted by women at the University, and this expedition positions us at the heart of both. We are partnering with Sail Britain, an organisation that is dedicated to transformative science and arts projects at sea.  Working at the juncture of nature and society, we want to turn our sailing vessel into a floating think tank and lab for ocean solutions, pushing the boundaries of scientific research, storytelling and marine conservation in a dynamic, carbon-neutral format.”

She adds, “Anthroposea is the first ocean-going Oxford University expedition with an explicit marine social science focus. Problems at sea are the result of decisions made on land. Without understanding social-ecological interactions, and the values determining these decisions, we will not be able to effectively address issues faced by our global oceans. We want this expedition to provide a proto-type design for the execution of social science-based marine research and practice.”

The core crew comprises student researchers from the MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management Program with backgrounds ranging from Anthropology and Geography to Economics and Literature, as well as a journalist and filmmaker. They are working in collaboration with Dr Alex Rogers from the University’s Department of Computer Science on the application of novel technologies to carry out acoustic monitoring onboard. “The ocean soundscape is a continuously changing mosaic of sounds and many people, especially policy-makers, have never had the opportunity to listen to what is beneath the surface of their local waters, let alone grasp the extent of noise pollution faced by marine life.”

A documentary of the expedition will be recorded during the trip.

The search is now on for four additional marine social scientists to join the crew. Arzucan says, “We have just opened a call for applications across the University to fill the remaining berths on our expedition vessel ‘Merlin’ with  women researchers passionate about innovative approaches to ocean solutions. No prior sailing experience is required, and in line with Sail Britain’s ethos, we will prioritise applicants who have never sailed before or for whom sailing would otherwise be inaccessible.”

Crew 2

This is not the first such trip for Arzucan, who is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and has led expeditions on land and at sea across Europe, Latin America and Asia. As a geographer, marine conservationist and political ecologist, she is deeply passionate about scientific exploration, marine conservation and underwater cultural heritage. Unlike many of her peers in these fields, she did not grow up close to the ocean, but in the landlocked city of Berlin. My parents were immigrants who moved from Turkey to Germany in the hope of starting a new life. I studied human geography, and came to conservation through the marine social sciences. My background is therefore a little unconventional in the marine conservation world. With that in mind, I hope this expedition inspires other researchers who did not grow up by the sea and who are not traditionally represented in the marine science realm to work on ocean issues. We need lawyers, economists and political scientists just as much as we need biologists and ecologists.”

Arzucan has been part of many ocean-based projects, including assisting in the monitoring of coral reef health in Hong Kong, the tracking of illegal fishing activities in Malaysia and ghost gear removal in Turkey. She is also a 2019 UNLEASH Innovation Lab Talent for SDG 13 (Climate Action) and has been shortlisted as one of the twelve ‘Women and the Ocean Changemakers’ by the Economist Group’s World Ocean Summit 2020. After her studies at the University of Oxford, she will embark on a year of scientific and technical dive training in with a scholarship from the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society.

As with many facets of travel and research during the pandemic, the expedition’s start is reliant on the easing of current Government restrictions. Arzucan says, “Our exact date of departure is dependent on Government guidelines on travel and social-distancing, and also the weather and sea state - but we are hopeful to be able to set sail and carry out our research at the end of May. Our initial itinerary covers the eastern coast of the UK, but there is a possibility that we will change our course to sail along the southern coast instead, as our research questions, aims and partnerships can be applied to both.”

The project is searching for further partnerships to successfully carry out its mission. You can learn more about the Oxford Anthroposea Expedition via its website here and we will be posting updates from onboard as the expedition progresses.