This week we catch up with Sally Earthrowl, our teacher-turned-eXXpedition Mission Leader. Sally is now back on land after exploring the Caribbean during Legs 3-5.
Hey Sally! Could you tell us a little about Antigua and what your first impressions were?
Arriving into Antigua to the sounds of a gent on a steel drum, views of a lush landscape and the prospect of adventure filled me with a buzz that stayed with me from start to finish as I sailed 1,462 nautical miles across the Caribbean Sea with eXXpedition.
eXXpedition sailing into Antigua (Photo credit: Anna Strang)
Antigua and Barbuda is a country in the West Indies with an elected Prime Minister to run the nation and is part of the Commonwealth of Nations, sporting a Governor-General representing the British monarchy. Antigua and Barbuda are faced with waste-disposal challenges; as the majority of goods (especially food) are imported in plastic packaging, it creates a complex problem when trying to tackle the reduction of waste. Yet this nation is also one of the few tackling this issue head on – by introducing a ban on plastic bags and other single-use plastic items.
So what happened when you arrived?
In November, our Leg 2 crew arrived from their North Atlantic crossing and gave an impressive presentation at Antigua Yacht Club to an audience of about 100 people, sharing their stories of adventure, as well as key scientific findings and ideas on solutions. The Minister for Tourism showed particular interest in the venture. It was great to discuss and evaluate the impact of the relatively recent plastic bag ban. He was aware that the plastic bag ban was as imperative to protect Antigua’s shores and oceans from environmental degradation, as was to protect them from an economic perspective. Antigua still faces some challenges in honouring the ban and it was good to have an open discussion about these with a government representative.
Leg 3 crew in Antigua (Photo credit: eXXpedition)
It sounds like the Antiguan Government’s attitude to plastic is really positive. What other kinds of movement are working to tackle the plastic issue?
Antigua has action groups that work on stimulating change to improve the local environment and prior to our arrival I had engaged in many discussions with a variety of different groups and individuals. This collaboration with local organisations is of great importance as it allows us to have a much more effective impact and sustainable outcome to our visit. During my time on the island, I had an exceptionally productive meeting with the Environmental Action Group (EAG) which has led to them adopting some of our citizen science techniques and looking to work with Jenna Jambeck on carrying out a more detailed Circularity Assessment Protocol. They supported us throughout our visit, joining us at the Leg 2 Crew Presentation and on Green Island for our leg 3 beach clean and survey so that they could learn more about the citizen science in practice. I look forward to seeing what the EAG achieves next!
We heard that you also had the pleasure of meeting the Governor of Antigua?
Meeting the Governor of Antigua, His Excellency Sir Rodney Williams and his family for dinner with Dr Winnie Courtene-Jones was a highlight of my time in Antigua! Being met by a driver in a peaked cap was the first of many memorable moments and the in-car conversations as we travelled to the north of the island was very insightful. We discussed the planet, politics and shared life stories. It was a pleasant surprise that he joined us at the dinner table to further discuss eXXpedition’s mission, the challenges Antigua and Barbuda face and the potential solutions. As part of the Commonwealth of Nations, Antigua and Barbuda has signed up to the Blue Charter, an agreement by all 53 Commonwealth nations to ‘actively co-operate to solve ocean-related problems and meet commitments for sustainable ocean development’. It was a brilliant opportunity to discuss the support that the Commonwealth can offer and the fact that Antigua is already signed up to the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, an action group on marine plastic pollution. I was honoured to have His Excellency Sir Rodney Williams attend a talk I gave later on in the week at The Mill Reef Club and openly discuss what Antigua can do to overcome the challenges faced.
Mission Leader Sally Earthrowl & Science Lead Winnie Courteney-Jones meet the Governor or Antigua (Photo credit: eXXpedition)
So how did it feel to kick off Leg 3 having already made some important connections within the local community?
When Leg 3 arrived to ‘Explore Antigua’ we had already had quite an impact on the island. The crew boarded the boat reporting that even the cab driver from the airport had heard about the initiative, which made them even more excited to get started! We met with representatives from the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Maritime Services and Merchant Shipping (ADOMS). The ADOMS team were interested in eXXpedition as an example of ‘empowered women’ in-keeping with the theme of the International Maritime organisation’s World Ocean Day pledge ‘empowering women in the maritime community’. We discussed initiatives on the island to raise the profile of women in the industry, as well as the issue of plastic pollution globally and the local actions that can help to combat it.
What was your personal highlight of Antigua?
One of the highlights of leg 3 was our visit to Cobbs Cross Primary School. Excited anticipation filled the crew as the children piled out of their classrooms, carrying chairs into the open space in the middle of the school grounds. The buzz settled as Ms Gayle Walters stepped out to introduce the crew. Without a projector or microphone (a megaphone was provided!) we were challenged to bring the experience to life through our storytelling and the leg 3 crew were phenomenal at this! Hands shot into the sky as through the megaphone, the students were asked to contribute their questions. As an experienced teacher, I was amazed by the insight and quality of these questions and super proud of the adept way in which the crew answered the queries and encouraged the students to turn their own ideas into action.
Leg 3 crew visits Cobbs Cross Primary School (Photo credit: eXXpedition)
And finally… what would you say that your biggest take-away from this eXXpedition would be?
A big take-away from my time in Antigua is that there seemed to be a huge awareness about the issue of plastic pollution. From incidental discussions with locals whilst carrying out our Circularity Assessment Protocol (a scientific study led by Jenna Jambeck exploring the waste leaking from production to disposal) and meetings with official representatives to a particularly impressive set of inquisitive questions from local school children! Awareness is there, the next step is for each of those people to find their role in the solution.
Plastic pollution on Antigua (Photo credit: Kristen Weiss)
Discussing the issues, the solutions and the actions that can overcome the barriers allowed us to gain a better understanding of the unique needs of this island nation and help ‘shift perceptions’ and encourage better actions for change. I have left with an impression of an island that is already taking great steps towards reducing waste and one that is keen to continue to take action to protect its environment. What an island to start my journey as ‘Round the World’ Mission Leader…what’s next?!