A Virtual Voyage To Learn About Ocean Plastic Pollution.

I was delighted to take part in the virtual voyage with eXXpedition on leg 2 to Fiji which took place from 5th-18th of February 2021. Having been selected to be one of the 300 crew members out of the 10,000 people that applied I knew this adventure was going to be an exciting one. The voyage was designed to sail 38,000 nautical miles through some of the densest plastic accumulation zones to tackle the devastating environmental and health impacts of single-use plastic and toxics in the world’s oceans.

The plastic crisis comes up time and time again with our Meaningful Recruitment clients as we work with organisations that are B Corps & also Social Responsibility focused companies so plastic pollution is regularly discussed. I've also given speeches on 'How we can all contribute to something meaningful & get out of our comfort zones' to make a difference in our world. So, I didn't hesitate when I was given an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and learn more about this hot topic of today by joining the Round The World Voyage.

My original plan was to join the crew and set sail in May 2020 on leg 12 for 7 days from Fiji to Vanuatu , however, the pandemic set in with 8 of the 30 legs completed. S.V. TravelEdge had sailed 10,330 miles from the UK to the South Pacific sailing across two of the world’s ocean gyres and ended up being safely moored in Tahiti. COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and the widespread closure of borders ensued with global air transportation descending into chaos.

Emily Penn and her eXXpedition team are not ones to give up and they soon came up with a new plan for 2021. It would really have been amazing to have completed the voyage in person but connecting virtually was the only way forward and I if I'm honest, I had a wonderful adventure with my 12 other crew members! It was as good as it could have been all considered.

The voyage took place over 2 weeks and I joined other crew members from all over the world from Australia, Singapore, USA, Austria, Turkey, UK & Germany. There was lots of information to process and I'm looking forward to sharing it with you via a website called PlasticWize which will be 'live' very soon at www.plasticwize.co.uk. So for now, here's a taste of what happened:-

I took part in some land based citizen science along with my crew and we logged debris and plastic waste via a Marine Tracking App which generated some fascinating data. A huge amount of plastic litter was collected with the main items being cigarette butts which you can see in the picture below.

Many people are unaware that cigarette butts have plastic in them. Literally trillions of cigarette butts are thrown down storm drains or on the pavement littering the environment every year, where they leach nicotine and heavy metals before turning into microplastic pollution. You can learn more in this article from the National Geographic by clicking here .

I also learned a huge amount about the science results and saw the different samples that were taken from 3 different parts of the water column. You can see in the attached photo the various sizes and types of plastic that were found in some samples on a previous leg from S.V. TravelEdge.

(photo credits Eleanor Church) .

The research conducted during the mission at sea was designed to advance a better understanding of the plastics issue as a whole and to work with industry to pinpoint solutions and policy at a global level by addressing knowledge-gaps and delivering evidence to inform effective solutions.

During Leg 1-8 of the sea voyages a total of 261 samples were collected at different levels of the water column as you can see below:-

95 SURFACE MANTA TRAWLS were done to examine the abundance, distribution and polymer composition of plastics in surface waters.

60 COASTAL SEDIMENT SAMPLES were taken to test the hypothesis that sediments are a ‘sink’ for microplastics and to determine the abundance and polymer composition.

96 SUBSURFACE NISKIN samples were taken to study the composition and distribution of different plastic polymer types within the upper ocean, which is currently a data deficient topic.

10 AIR SAMPLES were also taken to determine the threats of airborne microplastics in remote oceanic locations and the potential of wind as a vector for microplastic contamination.