We set sail on our Leg 6 voyage from Panama to the Galapagos Islands, a group of islands also known as “The Enchanted Islands”. The Galapagos are a volcanic archipelago, rising from the sea around 1000 km from the South American coast, sitting across the Equatorial line. They are known to be a natural laboratory for evolution and are full of unique creatures. The region is made up of 13 main islands and many smalls islets. Established in 1998, it is one of the biggest marine reserves and has been a national park for more than 70 years.

Galapagos archipelago

The Galapagos is a place where you still find pristine areas, which look almost the same as when Charles Darwin visited the islands, bar one difference – now the islands are a sieve for all the plastic that is floating in the ocean. Moved by marine currents, plastic is flooding the region with lots of trash affecting the ecosystem and all the species living on it.

Sailing with eXXpedition as a bursary recipient is an amazing opportunity for me; being a marine biologist and working on the plastic problem here, conducting science all the way from Panama to Galapagos. Understanding a little bit more about the situation outside of the archipelago and to compare the information that we have been collecting on the islands and learn new things.

From the four inhabited islands, I live in the most eastern one, San Cristobal, which is also one of the oldest islands. A place with perfect waves, beautiful sunsets and a small community that has gathered together to fight against the plastic pollution affecting our home.

Anja and Daniela sorting microplastic samples (Photo credit: eXXpedition)

From single members on the community to environmental organisations, central government and local universities, people have been mobilised and are working on different approaches to reduce the consumption of plastic on the island, by banning certain plastic items, cleaning beaches and waterways and educating the public. Some things have been progressing slowly but at least we’re on the right path, I guess. However, we cannot control what is happening with the rest of the word; so we are still seeing places being filled with plastic that arrives to the islands from the ocean  – and no matter how much effort we put into cleaning certain areas, we come back few months later, and there is plastic everywhere again. Sadly the same has been seen across most of the islands in the Pacific.

Lately I have been witnessing large amounts of plastic arriving to the islands that have Asian branding. From plastic bottles and flip-flops to plastic sacks that are thrown overboard by a vast fishing fleets – that are not just depleting our resources but also leaving all the trash behind. There is a lack of regulation and control in international and equatorial waters and a lack of consciousness about or concern for the plastic problem from most of the people working at sea.
Sample of microplastic collected on leg 6 (Photo credit: eXXpedition)

The positive thing is that there is a lot happening already to fight against the problem now. Being onboard eXXpedition with a group of amazing women gives me a great feeling that a bigger change is happening. However, I really think we need to have better regional policies and to keep educating the people to stop the problem by producing innovative ideas on how we can clean places that are polluted already.