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eXXpedition - Researching Ocean Plastics & Toxics

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I am excited to let  you know that out of 10,000 women who applied, I have been selected to take part in eXXpedition Round the World, a 2 year circumnavigation of the globe to raise awareness of the devastating environmental and health impacts of single-use plastics and toxics in the oceans and explore actions and solutions.   I will be sailing on the leg from the Galapagos to Easter Island in February and March next year as part of a diverse, all-female crew including scientists, filmmakers, artists, teachers, doctors, sustainability experts, exploring the impact of  ocean plastic as we sail towards the South Pacific Gyre.

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

The groundbreaking research being carried out on board will focus on the following areas:

Surface water: Manta trawls

This research will utilise standard methods to examine the abundance, distribution and polymer composition of plastics in surface waters. We will also investigate the role of ocean currents and circulation features, such as eddies, on microplastic distribution.

Subsurface water: Sampling with NISKIN bottles
Subsurface sampling is undertaken to study the composition and distribution of different plastic polymer types within the upper ocean, an area which is currently lacking in data. This study will challenge perceptions that microplastics reside only in surface waters while contributing novel data to address gaps in our understanding of the distribution of microplastics within subsurface waters. This is important research as it will have implications on understanding the global budgeting of plastics and developing effective solutions must take into account all plastics.

Subtidal sediment: Van veen sediment sampling
This will form a global analysis of the distribution, abundance and polymer composition of microplastics in subtidal sediments. We are testing the hypothesis that  sediments are a ‘sink’ for microplastics and will perform analysis to determine the abundance and polymer composition in coastal sediments. This will enable the identification of global ‘hot spots’ and polymer data can inform on the potential sources of these microplastics.  

Through the analysis of polymer types we can discover in which sectors (e.g. textiles, maritime, plastic packaging) more work is needed to reduce plastic pollution.

This trip combines two loves: the sea and fashion.

I learnt to sale on Velsheda back in the late '80s - I don't think many people get their sea legs on a J class yacht with the tallest single mast in the world. I spent a few summers chartering her out of Southampton before jumping over to the next boat along in the marina, TS Astrid, and spent many happy months sailing the Channel and taking part in the Tall Ships Race with a brilliant crew. After my Masters, I worked on boats in the Caribbean for a year and sailed across the Atlantic in TS Unicorn.  The sea seemed so pristine.  I remember nights at sea just watching the glowing, glittering phosphorescence resulting from the bioluminescence of organisms in the surface layers of the sea. I never imagined that I would be sailing in these seas three decades later to carry out research into the degradation of this marine environment. 

I am participating in this Round the World voyage because I want to highlight the impact our clothing has on our oceans and ways in which we can all do something about this.  

Few people recognise the incredible impact our clothing has on the oceans, the environment and on climate change: Textiles are the largest source of both primary and secondary microplastics, accounting for over one third of global microplastic pollution.  Research  carried out at the University of Plymouth found that between 700,000 microfibres are released from a typical wash load of polyester fabrics, whilst the Italian National Research Council put the figure at 6 million per washload.   An estimated that at least 9.4 trillion microplastic fibres could be released per week in the UK from our clothing. Once those microplastics are out in the ocean there is no way of cleaning them up, so we have to look for solutions back on land.

Since I founded Fashion Revolution in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh,  it has become the world's largest fashion movement with teams in over 100 countries around the world.   In the coming year at Fashion Revolution, we  will be digging down into those unseen parts of the fashion industry to help highlight the hidden social and environmental impact of our clothing and focus on ways to engage citizens and brands to make a difference. I believe we can all take action through our individual shopping choices and the way we wash, care for and dispose of our clothing.  

We will also continue to engage with brands and retailers to highlight best practice in this area and encourage progress to a more regenerative system. Brands and retailers can  take action by reducing their use of virgin plastics. This year we started measuring their progress in this area in the Spotlight Issues section of our annual Fashion Transparency Index      Whilst 43% of brands are publishing a sustainable materials strategy or roadmap, only 29% are disclosing the percentage of their products that are made from sustainable materials and only 15% publish measurable timebound targets for the reduction of virgin plastics.  We need to push these brands harder and faster towards taking responsibility for their actions and impacts.

I believe I have the global platform to use this voyage to highlight the changes that need to happen in the fashion industry and how we can find solutions collectively towards creating a more sustainable model for the future. 

I am intending to meet our country teams in Ecuador and Chile and give talks and press interviews on my way to the Galapagos and on the way back from Easter Island.  My crew contribution is £7,600,  and the flights are an eyewatering £2,700, plus £200 travel/accommodation for giving talks in Quito and Santiago. 

If you want to help save our oceans and fund this valuable work at the forefront of science on ocean plastics, I would be most grateful for any donations of any size towards the cost of this trip.

If anyone is interested in corporate sponsorship, please let me know. Sponsorship can either be financial, or if you are able to offer a relevant sustainable product (reusable drinking bottles, zero waste products, organic skincare etc) then I can sell these in Pachacuti's shop and the profits will be used to help fund my trip.

I can provide images from the voyage and an official eXXpedition crew supporter logo for you to use to publicise your support and I can add sponsors' logos to my crew profile on the eXXpedition website which will be visited by press and public alike. I am happy to give a presentation on our research after the trip if you are UK based.  If any corporate sponsors would prefer to donate/provide sponsorship directly to the Fashion Revolution Foundation, a registered Charity, for my participation in this voyage and/or Fashion Revolution's work to provide tools and educational resources to help citizens make more informed choices to reduce our environmental impact, please let me know. 

Thank you so much in advance for your support!

Plastic soles of shoes washed up on a quiet beach in Mexico, collected by Sienna and I during a 15 minute beach clean last November along with a bucket of other single use plastics.

eXXpedition photos: eXXpedition/Jen Russell and eXXpedition/Ana Jarc


Carry Somers

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