Women working to save the environment: a conversation with eXXpedition Head Scientist Emily Duncan

(c) Eleanor Church Lark Rise Pictures - eXXpedition North Pacific leg 1 Hawaii to Vancouver Photo (245)

Bridging the gap of lacking gender and racial diversity in exploration, eXXpedition is a pioneering organisation that brings together all-female sailing crews, aiming to bring to light the current issues surrounding oceanic plastic pollution:

“eXXpedition – led by ocean advocate and skipper Emily Penn – was founded in 2014 to shift the way people feel, think and act by building a global network of multidisciplinary women who can contribute to world-class scientific studies, explore solutions, and use their unique skill sets to tackle the problem from all angles.”  – exxpedition.org

 To be able to give women an opportunity for contribution to and visibility within such a critical field of science is both exciting and commendable.

Emily Duncan (our honorary Envirobabe) is a PhD researcher from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. In 2018, she joined eXXpedition on a voyage through the great pacific garbage patch, a leg which extended from Vancouver to Hawaii. As head scientist of the voyage, her main focus of research was on impacts of plastic pollution on marine turtles.

The work Emily undertook can be viewed below as TOMRA was commissioned to produce a mini-doc of the voyage:

I managed to personally catch up with Emily after the voyage and asked her the following questions (answers are in her own words):

Q. What were you expecting to see before setting off?

A. Through my work on plastic ingestion on turtles I expected the problem in the gyre to be quite severe. I think that it is sometimes portrayed as a floating island of plastic. However, in reality it is more of a soup of plastic all the way through the whole water column. But overall, I did not know what to expect the extent of the pollution to be.

Q. What impacted you/ surprised you the most during the voyage?

 A. I think the thing that impacted me the most of realising the scale of the gyre and the plastic pollution. We were getting high amounts in our trawls for over 1000 nautical miles and over 2 weeks of sailing we would be seeing large pieces of debris very often.

 Q. what was the dynamic like on the boat being all female crew?

A. We had a brilliant crew of amazingly inspiring women, which I feel very grateful to have met. We got very used to living on the boat very quickly working well as a team!

Q. what was the coolest thing about the whole experience?

A. To be able to visit somewhere so remote on the planet and to be at sea for a long period of time was the coolest thing probably, and to sail through so many different conditions and experience the change in climate between the start and the end point

Q. Has your perspective changed at all regarding ocean plastic?

 A. It has made my passion for helping the marine environment even greater, after seeing the wide-reaching effects we are having to some of the most remote and beautiful places on the planet.

(c) Eleanor Church Lark Rise Pictures - eXXpedition North Pacific leg 1 Hawaii to Vancouver Photo (70)

Emily has since gone on to work with National Geographic in their Planet or Plastic? Initiative, carrying out research along the Ganges river in India. You can read about that expedition here.

eXXpedition has also expanded and is currently carrying out a world-wide voyage to continue its research on marine plastic. They are still taking applications for some legs of the journey as I write. Despite my own lack of sailing experience, Emily tells me it is not necessary and that they are looking to recruit women from all walks of life. So, any ladies who want to give it a shot, the link is here.

Photography: Eleanor Church of Lark Rise Pictures
Photo Editing: Megan Harding

Written by Megan Harding

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