Scientists set sail on round-the-world plastics initiative

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An all-female crew is embarking on a pioneering global sailing voyage investigating the global prevalence of plastic pollution and possible ways to address it.

The eXXpedition Round the World voyage set sail from the University of Plymouth Marine Station on October 8, and will journey through some of the most important and diverse marine environments on the planet.

This includes crossing four of the five oceanic gyres, where ocean plastic is known to accumulate, and the Arctic on board the 73ft sailing vessel S.V. TravelEdge.

Over 30 legs covering 38,000 nautical miles, the crew will undertake a range of research projects developed by Dr Winnie Courtene-Jones, eXXpedition Science Lead at the University, in conjunction with Professor Richard Thompson OBE, Head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit.

The researchers will look at the global distribution of plastics and microplastics, from their sources on land to their dispersal and accumulation within the worlds’ oceans.

The science programme is expected to provide novel insights into the extent and characteristics of plastics not only in surface waters, but within the upper water column and in subtidal sediments of more than 35 countries.

Mission Director Emily Penn, an award winning ocean advocate and co-founder of eXXpedition, said:

“The plastic pollution challenge our ocean faces is a global one and it will take an inspired army of passionate, skilled and experienced people to tackle it. Our eXXpedition Round the World mission is a unique opportunity to build a comprehensive picture of the state of our seas, while conducting much needed research that will inform practical and effective solutions to ocean pollution.”

Professor Thompson added:

“In recent years, tackling the plastics in our oceans has become one of our most high-profile environmental challenges. It is crucial that we use innovative and informed means to develop a greater understanding of the issue’s global scale, and to identify ways to address it. This collaboration will undoubtedly help achieve that, and we are delighted to be working with eXXpedition to generate new knowledge and interest in this important area.”

The eXXpedition Round the World route

The research to be conducted during the mission has been designed to advance a better understanding of the plastics issue as a whole, and to work with industry to pinpoint solutions and policy at a global level by addressing knowledge-gaps and delivering evidence to inform effective solutions.

Beyond contributing to cutting-edge scientific research, the mission – which will see 300 women crewing the vessel over the 30 legs – also aims to celebrate women in STEM, exploration and sailing while creating a powerful global network of ambassadors.

Half of the 300 places have since been allocated, with participants aged between 18 and 57, and representing over 30 nationalities. They include scientists, community leaders, academics, artists, filmmakers, business women, psychologists, doctors, actors, ocean activists and sustainability professionals, and novice as well as experienced sailors.

Emily Penn added:

“We are starting our Round the World voyage with an amazing crew of inspirational women and some fantastic partners who help to make the dream of such an ambitious project a reality. Many great organisations are supporting our journey and share our vision of tackling ocean plastic through scientific research and empowering changemakers. We’re looking forward to furthering the science and visibility of ocean plastic and toxics, and contributing to much needed solutions back on land by inspiring our passionate crew to collaborate and take lessons back to their communities."

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International Marine Litter Research Unit

Marine litter is a global environmental problem with items of debris now contaminating habitats from the poles to the equator, from the sea surface to the deep sea.

Furthering our understanding of litter on the environment and defining solutions

Find out more about the International Marine Litter Research Unit