This All-Female Crew Sails Around the Pacific Ocean Raising Awareness for Plastic Pollution

Photo by Eleanor Church / Lark Rise Pictures

The war on plastic pollution has brought out a new crop of dedicated activists, many of whom are using their diverse skills to stand up, speak out and raise awareness. One of them is Emily Penn, 31, the British skipper who organises eXXpedition – all-female sea voyages that sail the Pacific Ocean to bring awareness to the rapid and alarming ways in which our plastic use is killing our planet.

Why the Pacific? Well, let’s just say it’s particularly horrifying in terms of plastic pollution. It’s home to the world’s largest accumulation of  ocean plastic waste, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, found between Hawaii and California. 46% of this horrendous mass of waste is composed of fishing nets (another reason to leave fish off your plate!). It holds 80,000 tonnes of plastic – 4 to 16 times more thamn scientists originally estimated.

Photo by Eleanor Church / Lark Rise Pictures

The most recent leg of the the two-leg voyage by eXXpedition, the North Pacific mission, took place just two months ago. The trip in its entirety covered 3000 nautical miles from Hawaii to Vancouver and Vancouver to Seattle, on board 72ft exploration sailing vessel Sea Dragon. 24 women sailed – some of them with no previous sailing experience – to study and document the effects of plastic and toxic chemicals on the oceans. Researchers and marine scientists, alongside filmmakers and brand designers, and even a yoga teacher joined the mission.

We got the chance to talk to sailor Emily Penn, an ocean advocate who started eXXpedition out of her tireless passion for fighting poplastic pollution. Having just completed a recent trip, what she shared with us was devastating, but also inspiring.

Tell us about your background and what inspired you to start this project – how did the idea come about?
My journey to tackle plastic pollution began 10 years ago, when I hitch-hiked around the world on a bio-fuelled boat to get to a new job in Australia. It was a job I didn’t end up taking. Instead, shocked by finding plastic in some of the most remote places on our planet, I chose to live on a group of pacific islands for six months to organise a community cleanup. I then travelled to California to learn more from some of the experts in the field of ocean plastic. Since then, my career has been dedicated to raising the profile of ocean plastic pollution, and has taken me all over the world facilitating science at sea, outreach and the implementation of solutions on land. In 2014, I launched eXXpedition – organising all-women sailing voyages with a focus on plastic and toxic pollution in the ocean.
 
How come you chose to make it an all-female team?
eXXpedition began as an all-women venture when I was learning about the potential toxic implications of chemicals used in the production of plastic, and other pollutants in our environment. These chemicals are endocrine disruptors which can disrupt hormones during pregnancy and can be passed to our children in the womb or through breastfeeding. Women are also underrepresented in sailing and science, which we are passionate to readdress by promoting positive female role models. But since the first voyage, I have also been blown away by how key the ‘all women’ aspect of these voyages has become. There is something unique about taking a passionate group of women to sea. Boundaries are let down, as we overcome challenges together. Bonds form fast and last for life.

Photo credit: Sperry

How do you choose the participants? What skills, qualifications and traits do the people who make it onto the team have?
We want everyone to apply! We are looking for multidisciplinary crew with an interest in the plastics issue, but that’s as specific as it gets. We want a whole range of women, different ages, different backgrounds and different skillsets. Previous crew members have been businesswomen, product designers, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, teachers, actresses, sustainability professionals and more. You do not need any sailing experience: we have professional crew on board who are there to give guidance and to make sure that everyone is safe. Visit www.exxpedition.com/apply to apply for our 2019 voyages.
 
What was your main goals for this trip, and do you feel that you’ve achieved them?
All eXXpedition trips have two main goals. The first is to take our all-women crew sailing to carry out citizen science for our partner scientists all over the world. The samples and data we collect feed into global studies on the nature and impact of microplastics, microfibres and toxic chemicals in the ocean. We collected over 300 pieces of data and samples this year. The second is to provide an experience, platform and learning opportunity for our amazing multidisciplinary crew. While on board, each member of the crew shares their own experiences, participates in workshops to find where they fit in creating solutions and explores collaboration opportunities with other members of the team. The 20 members of our guest crew will now join our already thriving network of eXXpedition ambassadors, taking the message of ocean plastic and achievable actions back to their own communities. 
 

Photo by Eleanor Church / Lark Rise Pictures

On your trips, we’re sure you’ve seen some truly devastating effects of plastic pollution. What are the worst things you have seen?
For me the worst thing is perhaps not what you expect. We do see some rafts of plastic and fishing line which easily entangle marine life, but for me its seeing the small pieces that overwhelms and astounds me every time. We take a fine net through the surface of the water and pull up hundreds of tiny fragments of plastic, the same size as the plankton. It makes me release that the whole surface of our ocean is covered in a soup of plastic pieces that are nearly impossible to clean up.
 
Can you describe the process of joining your team, and what to expect?
You can apply to become an eXXpedition crew member using our online form. We then organise Skype interviews with shortlisted candidates, where we want to hear more about you – we want to know what you’re passionate about, what you think your ‘superpower’ or key skill to tackle ocean plastic might be and why you are applying to sail with us. We mostly just want to get to know you better and consider how you might fit in with our crew. We’d love to take as many people as possible sailing, so we have some exciting plans coming up.

For a chance to join Emily and her team for the next journey, apply here.

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Sascha Camilli

Founder and Editor

A passionate changemaker, Sascha Camilli is the founder and editor-in-chief of Vilda Magazine. Born in Moscow and raised in Stockholm, she has also lived in Los Angeles, London, Milan and Florence, before landing in her current hometown of Brighton, UK. She was chosen as one of Vegan Good Life Magazine's Vegan Business Influencers of 2015 and nominated for Best Vegan Entrepreneur by Unicorn Goods Best of Vegan Awards 2017. She is also a Huffington Post blogger, THRIVE Career Mentor at Reading University and speaker at events such as VegFest and VegoVision Sweden. She loves to travel, do yoga on her sea-view balcony, and drink too much coffee.

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