Guest post from Lily Stuart
In December 2019, I was lucky enough to join Leg 5 of eXXpedition Round the World supported with swimwear from RubyMoon.
eXXpedition’s goal is to make the unseen seen by creating a global ocean plastic data set and promoting women in STEM. Leg 5 sailed from Aruba to Panama taking samples of ocean plastic and learning about the challenges small island nations face with waste management.
The eXXpedition Round the World science programme applies the same methods and controls the world over to give a clearer picture of the challenge we face. The sampling focuses not only on surface plastic but also that in the water column and in coastal zone sediment to get a better handle on the distribution, concentration and types of plastic waste in our oceans.
Plastic debris washed up on an uninhabited island in the Guna Yala Islands
Unfortunately, we did not have to search very hard to find plastic on Leg 5. We found tiny fragments known as micro plastics in every surface trawl and often just plastic bags and bottles floating past our boat. We also surveyed an uninhabited island in Guna Yala, pictured above, which was littered with plastic bottles, Crocs shoes and personal care products.
The shocking number of plastic bottles and cheap shoes shows just how out of sync our attitudes are. We have created things we place little value on out of a material designed to last forever.
Top Left: A line up of all the crocs we found on an uninhabited island. Top Right: Deodorant and body spray cans. Bottom Left: Sifting through the sand and seaweed for nurdles. Bottom Right: Nurdles, small plastic pellets about the size of a lentil.
A quick dig through the sand and seaweed unearthed another grisly discovery; nurdles. Pictured here in my hand on the bottom right, nurdles are plastic pellets about the size of a lentil. They are the raw materials for plastic products. Finding these washed up on beaches or in trawls means leakage even before products have entered the market. These nurdles may have blown off a container ship or have just been dumped rather than disposed of properly.
The solution to the plastic epidemic is a multi-pronged one. We need to re-examine our consumption habits, create fit for purpose waste management systems and also find innovative ways to upcycle and add value back to this waste plastic. RubyMoon is a perfect example of one woman’s waste becoming another’s treasure. Rather than using virgin plastic, we must make use of the plastic choking our oceans and create products we value and intend on keeping for longer than it takes to drink a fizzy drink.
Lily Stuart is a Sustainability Analayst from Ireland. She was chosen out of 10,000 women to take part in the eXXpedition Round the World Voyage. Learn more about the the expedition science programme here.