Plastic fantastic: Meet the all-female crew that’s cleaning up the ocean

On Monday 25th June the all-women’s eXXpedition North Pacific 2018 crew will depart from Hawaii on a pioneering ocean plastics scientific research expedition that will last a month and cover nearly 3,000 nautical miles through the densest ocean plastic accumulation zone on the planet – known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

At the helm will be skipper Emily Penn, an ocean advocate who’s dedicated to studying environmental challenges in the most remote part of our planet. She told us more about her plans to reduce plastic…


What’s so important about this expedition?

This is a critical time to be talking about the challenges we face with ocean plastic but more importantly, how we can solve them. We look at plastics and toxics and their links to human and environmental health – particularly as there’s an ever-growing conversation about the potential long-term impact on human health. Half of the world’s population rely on the ocean as their primary source of food, so we need to better understand what impact this level of plastic and toxics in our waters is having on our food chain.

Agathe Bernard

What will you be doing on board?

During our North Pacific sails, we will be collecting a number of different samples and data. We partner with scientists all over the world and then collect and send data to feed into larger scientific studies. On this voyage, we expect to collect sea water samples, which will be tested later for toxics in the water and microplastics. We will also be collecting microplastics using a manta trawl (this is a device that is pulled along just below the surface of the water), measuring the air for the presence of plastic microfibres and, subject to permits, collecting sediment samples to test for plastic particles. In addition, we will be collecting visual data on larger items of plastic and wildlife, such as whales, to feed into global data sets.


Do you have a daily routine on board?

No two days at sea are ever the same! Our days are 24 hours as we sail constantly through the day and night. We split the group into a watch system and work on a rota schedule so at some point you may be sleeping, cooking, conducting science, helming, adjusting the sails and navigating … or kicking back to watch dolphins and wildlife who’ve come to see what we’re up to!

Agathe Bernard

How do you reduce plastic use in your own life?

I avoid buying anything that I don’t need – living on a boat teaches you that you don’t need many things to live a happy life – and reducing your consumption immediately impacts the amount of plastic I use. Then I use reusable products wherever possible, such as a reusable water bottle to make sure I have access to plastic-free water on the go. If I can’t avoid plastic entirely, I buy in bulk to reduce the amount of plastic used in the packaging. A lot of the answers to reducing plastic use lie with the businesses that produce the items out of plastic in the first place – we need to be redesigning products with full-lifecycle analysis in mind.

Feature by Miranda Thompson