The eXXperiments part of the project is divided into Research and what we called ‘Me‘Search (research looking inside our bodies).
WHY ARE WE SAMPLING FOR PLASTICS?
Litter and pollution are the material manifestation of unconscious behaviours. We don’t see the end result of failing to dispose of a plastic container properly or that bag that blows away in the wind. Yet tonnes of plastic and chemical pollution is washing through our streams and rivers, ending up eventually in huge gyres of plastic debris circulating in the world’s oceans. See the official 5gyres website for a full picture of the contamination. At present, the ocean’s litter and plastic problem is increasing at the same rate as population growth. Let’s break that cycle!
Policymakers, politicians and the public remain largely unaware of the extent of the plastics problem and the magnitude of the threat to marine ecosystems. Most plastics do not biodegrade on land or in water, instead becoming brittle in sunlight and breaking apart into ever-smaller bits of plastic, still containing toxic substances introduced during manufacture.
These plastics act like sponges for other toxics, leading to the bioaccumulation of toxics in the food chain. Many of these chemicals are linked to disease and are found contaminating our bodies through food and consumer products.
Plastic debris also threatens marine and terrestrial wildlife through entanglement or by clogging their digestive tracts. The images below are the insides of albatross chicks on Midway Island, one of the remotest islands in the world; 2000 miles from the nearest continent, but with a very real and life threatening plastic problem.
RESEARCH: EXPLORING TOXICS IN OUR OCEANS, SEAS AND LAKES
Our research involves sampling the ocean, seas and lakes for plastics and surface feeding fish using manta trawl nets. The samples are quantified for types and sizes of plastics according to 5gyres protocols and recorded using a ‘Citizen Science tool’ called Marine Debris Tracker App.
Any fish that are caught are dissected to quantify plastics in the guts and samples are preserved for toxic analysis. Collected Microplastics will be sent for assessment for POPs, PCBs and other toxic contaminants and the fish will be assessed for plastic fragments in their guts and presence of toxic residues. We are also taking part in wider research projects including:
- Marine Litter Watch with the European Environment Agency
- Marine Debris Tracker with University of Georgia
- Toxics analysis of water samples by Dr Anna Kärrman, Örebro University
- Secchi Disk Project with University of Plymouth (LINK)
- Marine Microplastics Project with Adventure & Science for Conservation (ASC) and the Marine Environmental Research Institute (MERI)
- Microbial microbiome studies with Dr Barbara Drigo and the The Indigo project
- eDNA studies with Dr Jan Brant, CEFAS
- Mercury studies of biota with Dr Oksana Lane, Biodiversity Research Institute
MESEARCH: EXPLORING TOXICS IN OUR BODIES
Scientists estimate that everyone alive today carries at least 700 contaminants within our bodies, most of which have not been well studied. Wherever you live in the world, you have been exposed to a cocktail of chemicals. Along with tests to identify pollutants in the seawater, all women on an eXXpedition voyage have their blood serum sampled for contamination, known as body burden analysis to assess personal exposure to known toxic substances. This analysis has been conducted on our behalf by Dr Anna Kärrman, and the results are submitted to a global dataset collected as part of the UN Safe Planet campaign.
Through our personal exploration of our internal environment we hope to better understand the level of toxic exposure in women. We hope to understand this invisible pollution by creating a conversation that sheds light on the science of ecotoxicology and inspires positive actions to tackle the root causes.
An important part of the content creation is the interaction, debate and discussion of the issues by the teams aboard a voyage, which is curated to include filmmakers, scientists, environmental health professionals, and activists. Our teams also include women who have had cancer or have family members suffering from cancer. The interactions are documented through artistic creative practice led by our in residence artists, blogging from all the team and the creation of documentary film and interactive digital storytelling.
Our full eXXpedition Science Briefing can be found >>> Here
Learn more about our Affiliate Partners and Research Partners >>> Here
Download a copy of our Plastic-Free Lifestyle Guide, a collaboration between Raw Foundation, City to Sea and eXXpedition >>> Here