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Meet the Crew Monday: Researcher Marretje👩‍🔬

What is your name, where are you from and how old are you?

I’m Marretje from the Netherlands and I am 30 years old.

What inspired you to join the crew of Bark EUROPA, how did you join the crew?

I have always been drawn to the ocean, and not just because of my profession as a marine biologist. My dad used to own a small sailing boat, and the men of my family have a history of working at sea. While I never learned how to sail properly, during a sailing trip on the Wadden Sea, I heard about the Bark Europa. Instantly, I knew I wanted to be part of its crew. I think I called or emailed the next day, probably both. I was so determined that I had already made an appointment for a medical examination and a seaman’s book before knowing if Bark Europa would actually let me join. Fortunately, they did! It's been a magical experience so far. Plus, it has been beautiful to connect with my grandfather, telling each other stories of our days on the ocean!

What is your role on board as a researcher?

Studying the ocean, especially in remote areas, comes with its fair share of challenges and requires significant resources. The Bark Europa provides an incredible opportunity for scientific exploration in these hard-to-reach regions. The specific research subject depends on the specific researcher on board. In addition to doing research, we are all incredibly passionate about our respective fields and always happy to share our knowledge. If you plan on joining me for the next trip and have a particular subject you'd like to delve into, please don't hesitate to let me know!

Can you tell us more about your past projects on board?

Bark Europa collaborates with the Ocean Cleanup, an initiative aimed at reducing plastic pollution. During last year’s voyage, I collected plastic samples along our route. Coincidentally, the Ocean Cleanup processes their samples at the same laboratory where I work, located in the Zoo of Rotterdam! This means I can witness their research efforts firsthand on a daily basis. Just this week they showed me the plastic they found in the body of a floating turtle, and it was alarming. Such experiences give extra motivation for the research we will conduct during our next trip.

Can you tell us more about your research project during the ocean crossing?

Last year, in addition to finding plastic, we also encountered a lot of marine life. I recognized some, but many I had never seen before. For example, I had never seen a spiny lobster larva before (spoiler: they are super cool). During the ocean crossings, there are moments when it feels as if we are completely alone. No airplanes, ships, or islands in sight. Even though we are in “the blue desert”, we are never truly alone. In the upcomming trip, I would like to spend more time discovering what lives around us. I plan to make photographs of the marine life we find in our plastic samples and upload them to iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a citizen science project built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity worldwide. There are not so many entries on our route yet, so I am looking forward to changing that!

What is it like to live and work on a tall ship like Bark EUROPA?

So many words come to mind! Social, dynamic, surprising, hard work. However, for me, there is also a certain calmness to it. Not only because I don’t have to think about what to eat for dinner and that kind of stuff, there is this atmosphere of peace. At home, it's easy to get caught up in worrying about what I should be doing with my life. I wonder if I'm making the right choices or going in the right direction. But when I'm on board, those worries fade away. I don't have to worry about my career, where I should live, or any of the other big, existential questions that sometimes weigh us down. On board, everything feels right. All of the good and bad choices I've made have led me to incredible moments spent with the people on board, glimpses of dolphins passing by, and in those moments, it feels like I am exactly where I'm supposed to be.

What do you do when you are not on the ship?

I am an aquarist at Rotterdam Zoo, taking care of all the animals residing in the Oceanium. The Oceanium is an immense aquarium, circulating 7 million liters of seawater. It is the residence of a diverse range of species including fish, sharks, coral, rays, sea turtles, and many others. It has been an incredible opportunity to work closely with so many fascinating animals, especially considering that some of them are not easily observed in the wild. Daily interactions with individual animals have also provided insights I could never have learned from documentaries or books. I am truly grateful for this experience. Naturally, my work also made it very clear to me how little we know about aquatic animals and how this influences our perception of them. And consequently, how our perceptions alter the way we relate to them and treat them.

Could you tell us about a unique destination you've visited on board EUROPA and what made it special?

I joined the Ocean Crossing last year and this means I mostly visited the ocean! This fits very well with the famous philosophy “Life is a journey, not a destination”. The journey was magical and just when I thought there couldn’t possibly be any more enchanting moments – life proved me wrong. During the final days of our voyage, in and around Puerto Madryn, playful sea lions were swimming around the ship. Thanks to the biofluorescence they looked like some mythical dragons soaring past the ship. I will probably never be able to describe it well, but I believe sightings like it could have been the inspiration for magical folk tales. I never considered visiting Puerto Madryn, but with the abundance of wildlife there I am glad we did!

What's the most memorable moment you've experienced while sailing on Bark EUROPA?

There were so many things I will not forget. Even though it sounds very cliche, I really loved the interactions between this diverse group of people, all the good and bad jokes, and the great conversations. And then there was so much creativity and enthusiasm when it came to writing and performing songs. Some were hilarious, some were beautiful. One particular touching moment was on the last evening when we all sang along with Clara. It was a beautiful song and a touching ending giving words to this feeling of gratitude to everyone for sharing the adventure we just experienced while simultaneously wishing everyone all the best on the adventures still to come. Thank you Clara!

What is the most important lesson you've learned from your experiences on Bark EUROPA?

After arriving in the harbor, only a few hours away from setting sail, a friend shared a photo of the ship with the line “Imagine climbing those masts! So proud of my friend!’. It was only then I realized I was going to climb that high. And I am terrified of heights. But I am determined and love to challenge myself, so I did climb up. And with each trip up in the masts, increasing the height over the weeks, I realized my arms and legs never failed me. I discovered that my body is far more capable than I had previously believed. I learned to trust in my body's abilities, and I have benefited from this already on several occasions! 

Are there any unique traditions or rituals that the crew follows on board Bark EUROPA?     

Well, there’s some wicked stuff happening when we cross the equator…

Can you share an interesting behind-the-scenes story or fun fact about the ship that most people may not know?

Maybe everyone who has sailed on larger ships will know this, but to me, it was something I had never thought about. It is quite difficult to navigate a moving ship with a vacuum cleaner on wheels. Until, someone, once upon a time, had a stroke of brilliance and from that moment onwards vacuum cleaners are carried on our backs. Like fearless Ghostbusters. It worked so well that I already purchased some accordion straps to attach to the vacuum cleaner I have at home. For me, the first weeks on board were so much fun because I encountered all sorts of solutions for handling objects on a moving ship, with this just being one silly example.

How has being a part of Bark EUROPA's crew influenced your perspective on the ocean and the environment?      

As a biologist, I tend to look at the world focused on living organisms and our relationship as humans with them. During last year's ocean crossing, there was a photographer on board who captured images of the waves. I had never observed waves like he did. His photography made me realize I had been so focused on the beauty of life, I tend to overlook the intrinsic beauty that exists beyond living beings. Water itself. Waves. Clouds. All the colors of sunrises and sunsets we can see on board. I now try to take a bit more time to appreciate the things I wouldn’t normally look at. You will be surprised how many types of waves there are if you just look more closely.

Is there anything else you haven't mentioned now and would like to share?

For me personally, being on the ocean for an extended period of time, gave me some insight into how relieving it can be to be offline. Though I have always chosen jobs that are offline as much as possible, the internet and smartphones still have a big impact on my life. On board, I was really able to disconnect from everything and could really ‘immerse myself in the present moment’. It is a unique experience, almost impossible to replicate in the rest of the world. How many people can say they have been completely offline for seven consecutive weeks recently?


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