June 8, 2020 – By Serina Tatham
Big problems need big solutions, and what’s bigger than spending two years at sea? eXXpedition, an all-female two-year mission sailing around the globe, is doing just that. Founder Emily Penn is taking with her 300 women across 30 legs to inspire them and give them first-hand knowledge of the plastic pollution issue, creating story-tellers who can pass on their experience and implement real change.
On 8 October 2019, the S.V. TravelEdge left Plymouth for a round-the-world trip through four plastic accumulation zones. Using solution-based science, the women will study what plastic is getting out there enabling them to create plans for where the most change can be implemented.
Across the ocean, there are five gyres – places where plastic accumulates due to ocean currents. Sailing to these accumulation zones, the team will be able to study the most common forms of plastic in our waters, helping them to create targeted solutions.
One big issue that doesn’t get talked about enough is the detrimental effects that chemicals in plastic can have for women. A common culprit often seen in plastic containers, BPA can affect hormone production and fertility. Engaging women in the war against plastic is so vital, which is why, as an all-female crew, eXXpedition can reach likeminded women and inspire them to enact change in their consumer habits.
Sailing round the world for two years is no mean feat, but neither is tackling the plastic in our oceans. Visiting these gyres, the women can understand exactly what plastic is getting out there, helping them to create solution-based science.
By taking women from all different walks of life, many of whom are not professional sailors, eXXpedition is creating life-long ambassadors. Many of these women are teachers or business women and would never have the opportunity to engage so directly with the plastic crisis, but here they are able to gain first-hand experience.
On returning to land, they can implement change in their daily life and share their new-found knowledge because, as well as being a discovery expedition, a large part of it is about story-telling and sharing what they’ve learned and inspiring others.
From 28 January to 8 February, Leg 6 sailed 1,000 nautical miles from Panama to the Galapagos. With each member having a different background – from the owner of a PR agency to a marine biologist – everyone had a unique skill and was able to bring something valuable to the expedition.
The women taking part in this inspiring journey were: Alexandra Schindel, Anja Roennfeldt, Camila de Conto, Candy Medusa, Daniela Estefania Alarcon Ruales, Dr Hilary Ruth Nash, Jessica Patterson, Marion Huiberts, Sasha Francis, Stefanie Penn Spear, and Dr Winnie Courtene-Jones.
We wanted to dig deeper into the experience and what the women involved achieved, so we asked the team.
How did you first get involved in eXXpedition?
Camila de Conto, a Process Engineer living in Curacao: “I saw an article on CNN with Emily Penn. I felt the call. The eXXpedition has all the elements that excites me: Science, Ocean protection, Sailing and Women in STEM careers – I HAD TO GO”
Jessica Patterson, owner of the London-based and award-winning PR agency JPR Media Group: “One of my friends shared an article on her Facebook from Time Magazine or Conde Nast Traveler about an all-female sailing mission around the world to clean up the planet by picking up macro and micro plastic and analysing it in science labs. I literally knocked on the door of the eXXpedition founder’s flat and made my case of why I should be considered to become 1 of the 3% applicants accepted.”
Sasha Francis, an animal trainer and conservation educator from the US: “I saw an ad on Facebook and thought it was too good to be true. An empowering experience for women involving science, sport, nature, and the open ocean? I can apply to go to the Galapagos and study plastic pollution too? No way.”
Alexandra Schindel, who teaches science and environmental education in New York: “I learned about eXXpedition through a friend. I fell in love with eXXpedition’s mission and the female-led journeys to explore and solve the problem of plastics and toxins in our oceans and wanted to sign up immediately. I honestly don’t think I hesitated for one minute–I remember sitting in my university office and dropping everything to spend a few hours thinking about and writing my application.”
What, for you, makes this (plastic pollution in the ocean) such an important issue and made you want to take action?
Camila de Conto: “I live in a small island in the Caribbean and am immersed on this issue in all directions. To respect my love and care for the nature, animals and human-beings, I had to take action.”
Jessica Patterson: “I saw all the sad pictures of destroyed beaches covered in garbage and dead whales washed ashore filled with plastic and it broke my heart. I wanted to take action and do something and the plastic issue is something I could actually participate in in a constructive way.”
Alexandra Schindel: “As I became aware of the problem, I wanted to learn more about the science and to become a part of the plastic solution revolution. Because we each have a role in using plastics, we each have a stake in solving it.”
Anja Roennfeldt, championing sustainability in her role as Senior Vice President of an ocean freight company: “I am a mother of two sons. We live in the countryside and it makes me mad when I see plastic garbage. Plastic articles are part of our life – however we must be aware that plastics particles are even inside our body, compromising our health. Plastic is the most common element found in the ocean – how much worse much be the impact for the ocean life? What does this mean for the next generations?”
What makes a good policy? Have you come up with any possible solutions?
Candy Medusa, artist and marine biologist from Brighton: “there is no one solution, but rather hundreds of solutions coming from every different area.”
Anja Roennfeldt: “start with yourself, start small. Ban plastic bags, avoid plastic packaging. Reach out to your community and start to missionise.”
Sasha Francis: “one that doesn’t ignore real world barriers for businesses and the need for convenience, ease, and affordability for the average person.”
Stefanie Penn Spear, entrepreneur and leader in the grassroots environmental movement from Ohio: “Plastic bag bans are a great way to reduce single-use plastics and encourage people to become more conscious of their impact on the earth. But to really reduce the use of plastics, we need to get money out of politics so our elected officials aren’t bought by the fossil fuel industry and don’t work to push bad policy like banning plastic bag bans.”
What would your luxury item be to take on board with you?
Camila de Conto: “A nice glass of wine to share with my sea-sters while we watched all the colourful and unforgettable sunsets in the ocean.”
Alexandra Schindel: “A lounge chair. Sitting comfortably is such a luxury, and it would have made the night watch and sitting on deck so much more comfortable!”
Jessica Patterson: “My boyfriend Lewis. He would have been an incredible asset as an incredible chef and baker, and he’s very fit so he could definitely do the sailing.”
Is there anything that people can do in day-to-day life that would make a difference?
Candy Medusa: “So many things! It’s not about a few people being perfect, it’s about millions making a few simple changes to reduce their plastic footprint.”
Stefanie Penn Spear: “Yes. Start living by the motto, “less is more.” We as a society need to consume less. We need to understand that if the earth isn’t healthy, we can’t be healthy either.”
Dr Hilary Ruth Nash: Avoid producing waste in the first place: Refuse, Reduce and Reuse. By refusing or reducing what we buy, or by buying better quality and longer lasting items, we’re reducing demand. Therefore fewer low value, disposable items will be manufactured in the first place.”
Daniela Estefania Alarcon Ruales, marine biologist and researcher for the Galapagos Science Research Centre: “The best thing that everyone can do is spread the message and contribute to join more people making small changes and taking action.”
Camila de Conto: “Anything, the smaller it is, it makes a difference. Chose with responsibility.”
Alexandra Schindel: “We have to slow and stop and the sources of plastic pollution—the cycle of consumption and waste. With a few habitual changes, like bringing our own bags and reusable containers to stores and restaurants, we can make a significant dent in our own contributions to the plastics problem!”
Sasha Francis: “Yes! Of course. Don’t feel like you have to buy all the things and be “zero waste”. Work with what you have and make changes as you go.”
Jessica Patterson: “Plastic is a great material and has been life changing for the medical industry and food packaging industry. Until we find an economical replacement material that works just as well, we need to find ways to reduce unnecessary usage of it, recycle when possible and upcycle it.”
Anja Roennfeldt: “Do not wait for others or the politics, but start now, it starts with you, every day.”
Refreshingly, the women were down-to-earth and made the challenge to live sustainably seem achievable. You don’t have to become a zero-waste eco warrior overnight, but you do need to start somewhere. It was an honour to talk to them and for them to share their stories and insights with us.