July has been a varied month full of science, sailing and solution planning!
I was delighted to join eXXpedition with co-founder Emily Penn, who is a Sky Ocean Rescue Ambassador, onboard the boat Seadragon. So, what exactly is eXXpediton? It is a series of all female voyages that travel around the world to investigate the impact and find solutions to ocean plastic pollution. Onboard I was the lead scientist for leg two travelling from Vancouver to Seattle. My role was to facilitate all of the sample collection, data recording and science communication
I was joined by 10 other women (including 3 female crew members), all with different nationalities, professions and skill sets. The one factor we all had in common was that we wanted to be part of the change to make the ocean healthier. Once sailing, we were taking air, water and sediment samples to get a better understanding of the impact plastic can have within our marine environment. These samples were taken for numerous scientists around the globe and were subsequently sent back to their lab for further testing once we returned to land. I also had my own experiment set up looking into the distribution of plastic within harbours and the open ocean. I’m looking forward to sharing the results when I am finished in the lab.
There are so many moments I would like to share from the trip, but that would take hour and hours of writing. Therefore, I am going to stick to the ‘Rock, Stick and Leave’ moments. To break that phrase down in order; one moment that rocked, one that stuck and another we would have happily left out. This is something we all did on our last night, so imagine us sat outside in the cockpit of Seadragon watching the sunset as we were sailing into Seattle, our final destination.
What rocked was learning the ropes of doing science on a sailing boat! It is a completely different experience collecting and analysing samples when the floor is constantly moving about, and you are being sprayed in the face with waves and wind. The best bit was having a fantastic group of women involved in every aspect. The majority were not from science backgrounds, but they threw themselves head first from the beginning. The whole team can leave the boat knowing that they have been an invaluable part of important scientific research. Additionally, I am usually used to working alone in the lab. To be surrounded by a curious and eager group, who all wanted to be a part of the science on-board was extremely motivating and constantly reminded me why I enjoy research.
One of the moments that sticks with me the most was when we were sailing into Victoria, Canada. Someone pointed out to sea, thinking that they had seen a fin of a whale. To our surprise we were greeted by a family of 5 orcas, including 2 baby orcas. They stayed around the boat for around 30 minutes, playing in the water. As a finale, one of the baby orcas even jumped out of the water.
Another moment was when we visited the remote, unhabituated Broken Islands in Canada. When we began sailing in it almost looked like we were in the Jurassic park movie. However, when we set foot on land for a beach clean, we were shocked by what we found. We collected over 26 single use water bottles, 100s of tiny bits of Styrofoam, 14 buoys and 1 flip flop; to name a few. To see an island where no one lives become engulfed in rubbish, particularly single use items, reminded me why we need to act now.
Although it is really had to think of a moment I would leave out, if pushed comes to shove I would say my first night watch. I had completely underestimated how cold it could get, especially because I was wearing shorts when we left harbour. I was also quite tired, so trying to stay awake in the cold, dark night was a challenge. I definitely learnt my lesson for my next night watch.
Overall, the grounding with this growing tribe of eXXpedition ambassadors is a firm understanding of the ocean plastic issue. This stems a variety of interlocking solutions that each crew member will develop and apply when back on land. I leave the voyage full of ocean optimism and fuelled with motivation to tackle the problem. I have also gained a close network of driven and inspirational women that I am lucky to call friends.