There’s an agreement amongst the crew. If anyone spots a whale, they are allowed (required) to shout loudly and wake everyone up. Our sleep schedules are staggered for 4-hour Night Watch shifts at the helm, steering the ship, so sleep is precious. But whale sightings are WAY more important. Daniella spotted one while we were still close to Panama City, but we were singing Spice Girls too loudly during an on-deck workout challenge, so we missed a good view of it. Since then, we haven’t seen much. There have been a few dolphins and some birds here and there, like gulls, brown boobies, tropicbirds and frigatebirds. We are 400 miles offshore. We haven’t seen another ship or any land in 4 days. Instead of whales, our deep blue, Pacific waters were dotted with large pieces of trash.

Plastic floats past the crew (Photo credit: eXXpedition)

In one day, we saw a full-size chemical drum, a Croc sandal, a variety of plastic bags and film, a polystyrene cooler and cups, PET bottles like those used for engine oil, and several plastic water bottles. During one of our sampling sessions with the Manta Trawl that day, we counted 40 fragments of microplastic. To see all this pollution so far from shore, much of it without trying, was heart-breaking. The mood was sombre, and we were all shocked. We came out here expecting to see some microplastics in each of our samples that would otherwise not be seen as you look out over the water. I never expected to see fully intact pieces of trash this far from land.

Using the “Manta Trawl” to collect microplastic samples (Photo credit: eXXpedition)

I remember Anna, the Captain, saying she had seen such things before, and I almost didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. But now we’ve all seen it. We discuss how it could have all arrived here. Were we passing through a small current that concentrated the debris? Had a ship days away from us dumped these things? Either way, the trash that tainted our endless view of the open ocean reminded us that the work we are doing with eXXpedition is critically important. The research being conducted in this 2-year, round-the-world mission is reaching many places that haven’t been surveyed. We are aiming to “make the unseen seen” and create 300 changemakers along the way. We will share stories just like this in our communities around the world, cultivating partnerships for real solutions.

Someday I hope these stories are only of incredible marine life, not the plastic pollution that is more abundant than them.