Auf wiedersehen. Adeus. Arrivederci. Da svidaniya. Hwyl fawr. Farvel. Farewell.

By the time this Ship’s Blog gets posted, we will have gathered our belongings and departed Sea Dragon, our home for the last eight nights. We, the 13 crew members of the eXXpedition Caribbean 2016 leg 2, represent nine countries: Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Russia, United States of America and Wales. Despite our differing native tongues, we all share a bit of common language – the message of how the declining health of the World Ocean directly relates to the declining health of the World Population.

Each night, we shared our motivations for enlisting in the research voyage; it quickly became apparent that the marine realm is a passion for each of us, as is promoting women in Science, Technology, Math and Engineering, abbreviated “STEM,” careers. But, it also became all too clear that cancer has touched each one of us, though I am the only cancer survivor aboard.

There is a growing body of science supporting the understanding that many plastics leach chemicals that mimic female hormones, impairing normal function in the body and likely leading to cancers of hormone-sensitive tissues like the breast and ovary.

Right before my departure, I celebrated two years free of breast cancer. Not much before that, I celebrated my 40th birthday. Upon this revelation, one of my crew mates exclaimed, “This is your quarter-life crisis!” I laughed, as that means I will live to be 160! But, I suppose she was right. This trip likely does represent a ‘mid-life crisis’ of sorts. I choose to think of it as a ‘rebirth’ or ‘reawakening,’ my disease having brought things back into focus. In the words of the great oceanographer Sylvia Earle, “Every time I slip into the ocean, it’s like going home.” In the deep recesses of my soul, I suppose I just needed to ‘go home’ to Mother Ocean, have her waves wash over me. And I? To immerse myself in the passionate study of her as I did when I first started down the road to my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Marine Science.

The playful jest, however, did profoundly hit me. Could not the same be said for the World Ocean? Is she having her own “quarter-life crisis?” Scary to think it was brought on by mankind, myself included. As we sailed, we watched dolphins playfully swimming in our bow wake. Yet on this journey, we also witnessed stray cows – mothers and calves alike – take up residence in a landfill, eating their weight in garbage and drinking from the untreated, landfill drainage.

When I polled my fellow crew, our landfill tours were for many what struck them the most. Other surprising things: that in all three islands we visited, storm water drainage leads straight to the ocean. Recycling is minimally done on the islands.

My polling, however, also revealed some positive surprises: Our meeting with local school children, community activists and waste management officials, to name a few parties, revealed they all were eager to lead the way in reducing their island’s consumptive behaviour, particularly related to plastics. As one wide-eyed and dreaming boy put it, “All governments should work together to eliminate plastic from the ocean.” Well, there you have it ‘from the mouth of babes.’

And so while it appears that this chapter of eXXpedition voyages has drawn to a close, a new chapter is beginning, one that focuses more on tackling the sources of ocean plastics – our behaviour on land. With these Caribbean voyages, we began a new way of ‘doing business,’ with more community outreach and education to compliment our surface water micro- and nano-plastic research. We brainstormed a path forward, agreeing with full consensus that likely one-sixth of ocean conservation efforts should focus on waste management (i.e. beach cleanups), one-third on waste reduction (i.e. recycling), and one-half on creating a circular economy, meaning the design of reusable products in their present form in perpetuity. From here, we each plan to go forth and continue to spread the eXXpedition message and continue work as ambassadors for the ocean.

In close of this blog and this voyage I will reveal the final result of my crew mate polling: All of us were surprised that 13 FEMALE strangers from all over the world came together, and despite tight quarters, limited sleep, language barriers and more, managed to become the best of friends – not even one heated moment in eight days. As I type, they are in the salon just a talking away. But I must confess, I will not miss the sand or sunscreen in my bed that seemingly continually showered down from my two above-bunk crew mates. 😉 Will miss you both!

By Sara Mirabilio

Brainstorming the future… if not us then who? We are the custodians of this planet. Only we can save it from our own destruction.