Written by Natascha Glanzer-Fuerst and Louise Tremewan
Images from Louise Tremewan
ON LEG TWO FROM AZORES TO ANTIGUA WITH COPERNICUS MARINE SERVICE

After a breakfast of cereal and coffee (we have several caffeine fiends on board!), we started our day with learning how to carry out sediment sampling from different points along the boat with a Van Veen sediment grab (a tool that looks like a Pacman, instead of eating dots the it opens it’s mouth to eat sediment. You deploy the grab into the ocean, and when it hits the bottom it automatically triggers and collects sediment, ready to be recovered at the surface. Back in the lab it will then be analyzed by the scientific leader of the mission Dr. Awesomeness, Princess of Plastic Winnie Courtene-Jones. 

The team took a quick break from the science to  work on their core strength, by doing a little plank-challenge on deck. 

After a short coffee break (we told you there are serious caffeine addicts on board), we split into three groups to go to different supermarkets in town to investigate the packaging on certain product categories e.g. chocolate, tobacco and soft drinks. The categories pre-selected by Prof. Jambeck and her team at the University of Georgia as part of their CAP (Circularity Assessment Protocol). The purpose of this study is to assess the flow of plastic materials in and out of different countries and how this relates to the plastic items we find in the environment. 

It was really interesting to see how many products are actually wrapped in plastic and that many multinational companies don’t highlight the type of plastic being used for their packaging. This makes it very hard for the consumer to recycle correctly and, as we learnt the day before, tricky for waste management companies to reach recycling targets. 

We then headed back to our beloved ‘beast’ (SV TravelEdge) to have a quick lunch and, you guessed it; some more coffee! 🙂

In the afternoon, we headed to the north of the island to do a clean up on Santa Barbara Beach. At first glance the beach looked clean and beautiful. On closer inspection we realized that this was unfortunately far from the reality. Amongst loads of organic waste (caused by the storm that hit the island two weeks ago), we found plastic of every shape, size and colour. In less then an hour, a team of ten filled three large sacks with plastic trash, many of which were recognisable items: shoes, combs, and plastic toys. 

After the initial beach clean we started our timed nurdle hunt. For those reading our amazing blog that haven’t heard this term before, a ‘nurdle’ is a very small pellet of plastic, which serves as raw material in the manufacture of plastic products. We set our timers and started hunting. Some of us weren’t that fast…I think the caffeine had worn off :). 

After 30 minutes we counted our bounty: between us (9 people) we had collected 424 nurdles, enough tiny bits of plastic to endanger many many animals, but yet not enough to produce a single plastic bottle!

Our science collaborator Prof. Takada from the university of Tokyo will analyze these, to assess at the persistent organic pollutants contained within them. Many of these pollutants have toxic effects on wildlife and human beings. 

Additionally, this data was shared with FIDRA, who run the great nurdle hunt and work with governments and the industry to regulate the loss of these pellets, to ensure that they don’t end up in nature. 

Louise, who lives close to a beach in Cornwall summed up our feeling, she remarked “Even though I am thousands of miles away from home, the issue of plastics on our beaches is still the same, and it’s essential that all of us play a part in preventing plastic from getting into the environment.“