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.
The team at sea also collected samples to examine the microbial communities on the plastics; the pollutants contained within the microplastics; and they submitted observations to test methods to detect plastics from space.
The Science team found the greatest total number of microplastics in the surface waters were on Leg 2, through the North Atlantic gyre. However, the largest amount that were found in a single trawl (over 300 pieces of plastics) was on Leg 5 Aruba - Panama. Ten different polymer types have been identified (using PerkinElmer’s Spectrum two FTIR spectrometer equipment).
On every voyage leg, Polyethylene dominated the manta trawl samples, with between 55% - 82% of the microplastics identified as ‘polyethylene’ (HDPE/PE) - this type of plastic is used in shampoo bottles, plastic bottles for drinks, milk and yogurt containers, household cleaning bottles.
The 5th time we congregated on 'Watch 5' we enjoyed a wonderful 'Talanoa' with some incredible Fijian community representatives to talk about the waste and plastic issues on the islands. Like many island nations, Fiji has been affected by plastic pollution with waste management a major concern. Once items are on the islands and used, it’s hard to get them off. It's not uncommon to see old cars and broken washing machines piled up on each other rusting away.
Our final Watch sessions involved the solutions and conversations about how to resolve the plastic issues on an individual, business and community basis. Each of us came away with valuable information and knowledge which will be shared via the PlasticWize website launching in May 2021 - go to www.plasticwize.co.uk .
It was clear to all of us that we can make informed consumer choices to avoid unnecessary single-use plastics. Simple changes, new habits, thoughtful actions can all contribute to a better future. Let's get wiser about how we're using this material and reduce our plastic footprint.
Every plastic purchase we make as humans has an impact – plastic doesn’t go away because there is no ‘away’. There's much work to be done and I plan to play my part.
I came away feeling grateful for the experience and ready to share my knowledge.
Huge thanks go to all my Sponsors, Individual Supporters & Corporate Solidarity Supporters.
Many wonderful individuals and great organisations have supported me on my eXXpedition journey.
They share a desire to make a difference and reduce ocean plastic pollution.
Find out more about each of my main Sponsors below:-
Underwater Earth www.underwater.earth
A not for profit organisation with a big idea to take Google Street View underwater creating the most comprehensive survey of coral reefs ever conducted across 26 different countries.
BAM Bamboo Clothing www.bambooclothing.co.uk
The British bamboo clothing and active wear company which has recently become climate positive and has a goal to become impact positive by 2030.
Small Steps Project www.smallstepsproject.org
A humanitarian organisation and UK registered charity supporting thousands of children and their families in our world living on rubbish dumps.
Thank you also to these Corporate Solidarity Supporters:
Clare Witton Travel: www.clarewittontravel.co.uk
Meticulously designed travel experiences in the UK and far-reaching corners of the world. Itineraries are designed around places where luxury is entwined with strong eco credentials.
The Whale Company: www.thewhalecompany.org
An environmental education charity focused on plastic pollution; connecting people to nature, inspiring action and innovation through stand up paddle boarding, upcycling workshops, expeditions and campaigns.
The Zero Waste Company: www.thezerowastecompany.com
The first completely plastic free store and cafe in Tunbridge Wells! Their aim is to provide a zero waste environment for all their customers.
Follow my journey with eXXpedition on Instagram @katie.fightsplasticpollution where you'll see news of PlasticWize launching in April 2021 www.plasticwize.co.uk.
You can also go to www.exxpedition.com for more news and updates.
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