eXXpedition ambassador Deborah Maw shares how her experience at sea has influenced her artistic and scientific work:
“I was part of eXXpedition Round Britain 2017, completing the entire circumnavigation. Originally I trained as a biochemist, researching the structure of vertebrate muscle fibers using electron microscopy. I then went on to train as a teacher before switching careers to art – in particular environmental art and design, using and repurposing waste materials (particularly non-recyclable plastics and marine plastic litter) into sculptures, fabrics and fashion.
Being a passionate long-distance coastal walker (and novice sailor), I began to see micro plastics about 15 years ago. So when I came across eXXpedition Round Britain I jumped at the chance.
On my return I looked to see how I could build on my eXXpedition experience, combining my science and art backgrounds to highlight the issue of marine micro plastics and associated toxicity. I began to give talks, hold workshops and promote my microscopic micro plastic images (taken while visiting the SciArt lab, Ascus, in Edinburgh).
In 2018 I won an award from the Liverpool Awesome foundation, bought an inflatable canoe, created my own manta trawl and water filtering kit, and did a solo expedition down the Leeds Liverpool canal from the highest point in the Pennines to the Albert Dock basin in Liverpool.
I collected lots of micro plastics on this expedition, which I studied under the microscope, and later photographed at Ascus (whilst I was holding a workshop at a science college near Edinburgh).
During Spring 2019 I sailed with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust on their Joint Warrior mission to monitor cetacean behaviour during the NATO exercises. The plight of these top ocean predators was highlighted not only by the effects of the sonar but also the impact of chemical pollutants that are ingested via their association with micro plastics entering the marine food chain.
This summer I will be canoeing the Wye river, sampling for micro plastics, and walking some iconic UK beaches, creating plastic art to encourage conversations.
Next summer I will be sailing again, investigating marine plastics in Arctic waters between Svalbard and Tromso, another habitat used by many species of cetaceans, seals, walruses and oceanic birds. It is now evident that polar bears feeding on fish and seals are also being affected by micro plastic associated toxics.
I have just curated an art exhibition, featuring my micro plastic artwork for the first time and I’m currently creating a series of four outfits for a fashion event. The outfits use repurposed fabrics and plastics, each one symbolic of an expedition I’ve undertaken. Using art I am able to highlight environmental issues in a fun, beautiful and engaging way, promoting more awareness, discussion and action.”