eXXpedition as a platform for citizen science
Since the first voyage in 2014, scientific exploration, citizen science and data collection have been central to eXXpedition’s mission. Each voyage explores the prevalence and impact of plastics and toxics in our ocean by measuring, sampling and collecting data from places that are often hard for scientists to reach. The information generated, and compiled into large-scale studies, can help us understand where plastics and toxics are originating from, the impact they have on the ocean environment and, ultimately, what happens to them in the ocean. Through this research, we hope to work out how we might solve our plastic challenges.
eXXpedition is at the forefront of science by collecting data and samples for influential global studies, helping to fill gaps in data, engaging female ocean ambassadors in scientific research and citizen science initiatives along with finding innovative new ways to communicate the results to a broader audience.
Women, plastics and science
Plastics and and toxics have the potential to impact the sexes differently,, and depending on age, lifestyle or stage of development, they can act as endocrine disruptors and hormone inhibitors. However, the research as to the exact nature of the impact, the levels of these toxics we are ingesting from plastics and other sources, and how we might tackle these challenges, is still ongoing.
eXXpedition is passionate about promoting women* in STEM careers – an area where women are still unrepresented. We want to create and publicise positive role models in these fields to inspire the next generation of women to develop their skills and follow their passions. You can find out more about why we run all-female voyages here.
Science partnerships and citizen science on board
Partnering with scientific institutions, our crew members are also citizen scientists, collaborating to collect data onboard for our scientific partners who will then analyse samples and use the data to write influential scientific papers. This helps to add to our global knowledge on the plastics and toxics problem.
Another key aspect of an eXXpedition voyage is the exchange that takes place between the crew members. Each crew member has different skills and perspectives that they bring with them to explore this problem. Through learning from each other and gaining a deep understanding of the problem we see that innovative ideas arise. Often after a voyage, crew members will team up to start their own projects to fight global plastic pollution.
After the voyage our crew also become our ambassadors. Through talks sharing their experiences, they can reference these studies together with their first-hand anecdotal experiences gained on board, thus spreading an ‘evidence based’ understanding of plastic pollution in our environment.
Our scientific program has varied over the years. However we have a few core elements that have taken place on every voyage; surface and water column sampling for plastic and toxics, use of Marine Debris Tracker to record macro plastic debris sightings and beach clean ups.
Our main tool for exploring the contamination of the ocean surface with microplastics is the ‘Manta Trawl’. This device, which resembles a manta ray, scopes the top 10 cms of the waters surface and filters any debris into a mesh sock. The device is suspended from the spinnaker pole, a large pole, which is hung sideways off the boat. The trawl is used for around 30 mins. The resulting debris is turned out of the sock and filtered through sieves. Any plastic fragments found are counted, photographed and sorted. The data is uploaded to the citizen science app called Marine Debris Tracker. This app collects data from all over the world and was developed by Professor Jenna Jambeck, who sailed with us on the first eXXpedition in 2014. The data plays an important role in quantifying the global plastic pollution problem in our oceans.
Samples are also collected from the water column using a pump. These samples are analysed for micro plastic and for contamination from toxic chemicals. Sediment samples are collected from sediments near the ports we visit.
*We support all self-identifying women. See our Equal Opportunities Policy for more details.