Visible Women

This all-woman crew is sailing the Pacific to fight plastic pollution

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Moya Crockett
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The scientists, sailors and filmmakers will conduct research into the problem of ocean pollution. 

A crew made up of 24 women sailors, scientists and filmmakers is set to sail the Pacific Ocean this summer to study plastic pollution.

The eXXpedition team will begin their five-week voyage on 23 June, sailing from Hawaii to Seattle. During their journey, they’ll cross the North Pacific Gyre – a stretch of ocean otherwise known as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ or the ‘Pacific trash vortex’ thanks to its unusually high concentration of manmade plastic, chemical sludge and other manmade debris.

Emily Penn, a British skipper, ocean advocate and the founder of eXXpedition, will lead the team. The head of science will be Emily Duncan, a PhD researcher at the University of Exeter’s marine research department.

They will be investigating how plastic in the North Pacific could be affecting marine wildlife, Duncan said, as well as highlighting the impact of ocean pollution more generally.

“We are aiming to assess the scale of plastics – from large pieces to micro-plastics – in the North Pacific,” she told the Press Association.

“One of our aims is to consider this in terms of important sites for post-hatchling sea turtles. We also want to raise awareness of the devastating effects of this pollution.”

The journey will span 3,000 nautical miles in total, split across two voyage legs. Women on the crew will make daily trawls for plastics and pollutants and collect data for scientific studies by taking water, air and sediment samples. 

Members of the eXXpedition crew at a team briefing

Penn said that the team would consist of “scientists, filmmakers, journalists, artists [and] educators from all over the world”, split into a film and communications team, a science team and a solutions team.

“It’s really important that we keep on getting this ongoing scientific data to keep adding to those datasets, because at the moment there is still so little we know about the impact this plastic is having on our ocean,” she told Sky Ocean Rescue.

The solutions team, she said, will be “going out there to see the problem first-hand, so that then we can work out what it is that we really need to do to solve this problem back here on land”.

It is estimated that around 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans every year, or the equivalent of a truck load of rubbish a minute. The average oyster now contains 8.3 pieces of plastic – and by 2050, the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans could weigh more than the entire fish population.

In January this year, Theresa May unveiled a 25-year environment plan that focused particularly on cutting plastic pollution. However, Greenpeace later discovered that the UK government has refused to agree to firm recycling targets proposed by the EU.

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of women who’ve made a difference, celebrating their success, and empowering future generations to follow their lead. See more from Visible Women here.

Images: eXXpedition