Research News

All-Female Crew to Sail Pacific On Plastics Research Mission

An all-female crew including sailors, scientists and film-makers will cross the north Pacific later this year to study plastic pollution.

The eXXpedition team will set off 100 days from now (23 June) on a five-week trip across the North Pacific Gyre – better known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch because of the plastic that gathers there – from Hawaii to Seattle.

They will focus on micro-plastics and links to environmental and human health.

The team will be led by British skipper and ocean advocate Emily Penn, and the head of science will be Emily Duncan, a PhD researcher at the University of Exeter.

“We are aiming to assess the scale of plastics – from large pieces to micro-plastics – in the North Pacific,” said Duncan, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“One of aims is to consider this in terms of important sites for post-hatchling sea turtles.

web Emily Duncan rh 218xfreeAll-female crew to sail Pacific on plastics research mission. The eXXpedition team's head of science - Emily Duncan (Photo credit Steve Greenwood)

“We also want to raise awareness of the devastating effects of this pollution.”

Duncan is one of many Exeter researchers working as part of Exeter Marine (#ExeterMarine), which aims to bring together experts from numerous fields.

The university is about to launch a crowdfunding campaign, where the contributions will help fund projects including eXXpedition North Pacific 2018 and other research into plastics in the oceans. For more information, check out the crowdfunding page or follow @Exalumni on Twitter.

The eXXpedition voyage team is a diverse and international group of 24 women, split over two voyage legs, travelling over 3,000 nautical miles through the densest ocean plastic accumulation zone on the planet.

Crew members will make daily trawls for plastics and pollutants, and collect data for a variety of global datasets and scientific studies.

The crew will be made up of scientists, students, artists, filmmakers, business women, psychologists, actors, ocean activists and sustainability professionals, and novice as well as experienced sailors.

Emily Penn, co-founder of eXXpedition, which specializes in all-women sailing expeditions, said: “eXXpedition is a radical mix of adventure, science, advocacy and action to help understand the nature of a complex problem; the contamination of our bodies and our seas.

“Each voyage is designed to be a platform for ambassadors to take forward projects tackling plastics and toxics, and raise the profile of the issues to create change at a personal and organizational level, and influence national and international policy makers.

“We hope our journey from the tropical islands of Hawaii to the wild coastlines of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest will contribute to important scientific studies while inspiring action to protect these great places of outstanding natural beauty and importance.”

Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, said: “eXXpedition North Pacific will be pioneering sailing and research, and also helping build the case for urgent, decisive action on the throwaway plastic apocalypse that our oceans are facing.

“Such front-line support for our #CleanSeas campaign will help get the message further out.”

The eXXpedition crew will be sailing Sea Dragon, a 72ft scientific exploration vessel (owned by Pangaea Exploration) from Oahu, Hawaii to Vancouver, British Columbia and then from Vancouver to Seattle.

All costs are covered by crew contributions and mission sponsors which to date include The Copernicus Marine Service, Mercator Ocean, Princess Yachts, Hawk Yachts, Daedalus Yachts, Y.CO, Iridium and Finisterre.

Emily Duncan’s PhD is supported by University of Exeter alumnus donor Roger De Freitas, who is also contributing to her part in eXXpedition.


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