Marine science in Singapore and the region has a new champion: The recreational yachting community.
Owners of nine yachts have pledged their vessels to the scientific cause, such as by hosting marine researchers on expeditions so they can collect data or carry out experiments.
Their offer will help reduce substantially the cost of marine research because boat fees can take up to 50 per cent of a project's budget, said Dr Toh Tai Chong, a marine biologist at the Tropical Marine Science Institute in the National University of Singapore (NUS).
The move by the vessel owners is in keeping with the mission of The International SeaKeepers Society, which supports marine science and conservation efforts by offering members' yachts for use.
The American society, formed in 1998, had launched its Asia chapter in Singapore last year, led by president Julian Chang.
He said its growth here comes amid a "heightened consciousness of conservation in Singapore and the surrounding region".
The three yachts supplied initially by Discovery Yachts members have increased to nine, he told The Straits Times during a society dinner last week.
SeaKeepers Asia has yet to launch a scientist-led expedition but there are plans to do so, he added.
Said Dr Toh: "With SeaKeepers, potential areas of interest include going out to sea to sample waters and conduct biodiversity surveys."
Also, under its Discovery Yachts Programme, the society's members would take along oceanographic equipment, like instruments that measure temperature and salinity, to collect data as they sail around the world.
To mark World Oceans Day in June, SeaKeepers Asia, NUS scientists and other partners plan to send divers underwater to pick up marine trash. The vessels have also been used as "floating classrooms" for youth groups and students from such schools as Ang Mo Kio Secondary and Deyi Secondary.
In March last year, students from the Singapore American School went on a SeaKeepers yachtto learn about coastal development and marine life from NUS scientist Ng Ngan Kee. They were given nets to collect samples of marine life, which they later identified and examined with a microscope.
Marine conservationist Fabien Cousteau, a member of SeaKeepers' Scientific Advisory Council and the grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, was at the SeaKeepers' dinner last week.
Mr Cousteau said: "By donating boat time... the yacht owners can be part of the research.
"This is not only invaluable to the scientific community, but also engages them as part of the effort."
• For more information, visit www.seakeepers.org/singapore/