All-female crew will mark International Women’s Day with preparations to investigate plastic pollution in the Pacific

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 7 March 2020

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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On International Women’s Day an international all-female crew will prepare to set sail in the remote Pacific Ocean from Easter Island towards Tahiti on the eighth leg of a pioneering two-year sailing voyage and research mission around the world.

Despite significant progress, women are still underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sectors. Globally, women occupy only 13% of the STEM workforce (including health professionals).

The unseen nature of women in STEM and sailing, coupled with the unseen challenge of microplastics, became the catalyst for developing the all-female programme with the aim of ‘making the unseen, seen’.

Investigating ocean plastic

The aim of eXXpedition Round the World is to investigate the causes of and solutions to ocean plastic pollution under the directorship of award winning ocean advocate Emily Penn.

Driven by a passion to protect our shared ocean, the mission will enable 300 women to go to sea as hands-on crew and experience firsthand the challenges we face from single-use plastics, while contributing to scientific research and solutions-based thinking.

eXXpedition Round the World is a 38,000 nautical mile journey that started in October 2019 and will end in September 2021 in the UK.

On board S.V. TravelEdge, eXXpedition Round the World crews explore plastic and toxic pollution in our ocean. The journey will take them via four of the five oceanic gyres and the Arctic. So far over 80 multidisciplinary women have taken part from 26 countries.

Female leadership

Previous scientific research has highlighted the endemic nature of microplastics within our ocean environments globally.

The eXXpedition focus now is to advance a better understanding of the plastics issue as a whole and to work with industry to pinpoint innovation and policy at a global level by addressing knowledge gaps and delivering evidence to inform effective upstream solutions on land.

‘Having researched plastic at sea for several years I began to understand that the real challenge we face is microplastics – tiny pieces, smaller than your little fingernail that can get into the food chain along with other chemical pollutants, pesticides and flame retardants, that exist in our ocean.

‘I took part in a study to see which of these chemicals were inside me. Shockingly, 29 out of the 35 toxic chemicals banned by the United Nations were in my blood. Of these most were endocrine disruptors which mimic our hormones and stop important chemical messages moving around our bodies which for women, when you think about pregnancy and the fact we can pass them to our children made me realise that this is quite a women centred issue.

‘That’s why for the first eXXpedition in 2014 we decided to tackle it with a team of women. We set off on our first voyage thinking it was going to be a one-off trip, but we had such a positive experience from taking a group of women to sea – the powerful bonds that were formed – that we decided to carry on!

‘Since then we’ve taken women aged between 18-66 years old and of 40 different nationalities on voyages. Their experiences at sea make them influential changemakers back on land.’

EMILY PENN
Mission director eXXpedition

The multidisciplinary participants come from a broad range of professional and personal backgrounds. Bursaries are available to support diversity.

While on board, they share their own experiences, support novel and innovative scientific research, participate in workshops to find where they fit in creating solutions and explore collaboration opportunities with other members of the team.

Invigorated by their first-hand experience at sea, ambassadors are equipped and supported to be able to inspire and affect behavioural change in their personal and professional communities back on dry land.

Each eXXpedition voyage is designed to encourage collaboration between crew members and community groups, and to open conversations around female leadership, personal and environmental awareness and cultural and societal shifts.

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