Female researchers study plastics in Pacific

An all-female crew of researchers, called eXXpedition Round the World, departed Easter Island on March 9 aboard the 73-foot research ketch TravelEdge, bound for Tahiti to study plastics in the ocean and in the South Pacific Gyre. The passage is the eighth leg in a two-year scientific research mission, in which more than 300 women from around the world will participate. Altogether, the trip is composed of 30 individual voyage legs, during which the researchers will gather plastic samples from the world’s various oceans and seas, including four of the five oceanic gyres.

“Easter Island is an incredibly important stop on our world mission,” Emily Penn, mission director for eXXpedition, said in a press release. “The South Pacific Gyre is the least researched accumulation zone, and we’re looking forward to being able to share our learning and experiences once our inbound crew reaches land.”

Starting at Easter Island, one of the most remote inhabited islands on Earth, the crew will look at plastic pollution challenges on land. They will then sail to the Pitcairn Islands group and aim to visit the uninhabited islands of Ducie and Henderson, where observers have noted between 200 and 2,000 times more trash on the islands in 2017 compared to counts performed in 1991. In Tahiti, the crew will investigate the impact of this influx of marine debris.

According to eXXpedition, the reason for the all-female crew is that women are still underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) sectors. Globally, women occupy only 13 percent of the STEM workforce (including health professionals), and are also underrepresented in sailing as well as the wider sporting community.

Global resource sustainability company TOMRA has joined as a science advisor and gold sponsor for eXXpedition Round the World. Several women from the TOMRA team will be aboard as crewmembers to work on the mission, including two on the voyage from Easter Island to Tahiti.