Tiny plankton tell the ocean’s story – this vast marine mission has been listening

Since 1931 ‘citizen scientists’ on ships have enabled data collection on the tiny building blocks of the sea. Now this research could shape how we tackle the climate crisis

On a clear day, from their small, unassuming warehouse on the south Devon coast, Lance Gregory and Dave Wilson can see right across Plymouth Sound to the Eddystone lighthouse. Today, they’re watching a ferry from Brittany, the Armorique, pull into dock.

Behind it, the ferry is towing a one-metre-long device shaped like a torpedo. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s part of the planet’s longest-running global marine survey.

Related: Bid to grant MSC ‘ecolabel’ to bluefin tuna fishery raises fears for ‘king of fish’

We have a navy of volunteers on the ships that tow our equipment

We’ve had people come to us wanting to look back in time, to study plastic pollution, for example

Related: Climate change in deep oceans could be seven times faster by middle of century, report says

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