Making Waves: All-female research team sets sail to fight ocean pollution

The eighth voyage of eXXpedition Round the World has officially set sail from Easter Island to Tahiti, with ocean advocate and eXXpedition co-founder Emily Penn at the helm.

By Raye Mocioiu

More than 300 international women have joined a two-year-long, round-the-world voyage to research the devastating impact of plastic pollution and inspire innovative solutions to save the oceans.

eXXpedition Round the World is a non-profit organization, focusing on marine pollution. The 38,000 nautical mile mission set sail from the UK in October of 2019 and will end in September of 2021.

Making Waves: All-female research team sets sail to fight ocean pollution
eXXpedition Sohpie Dingwall
Making Waves: All-female research team sets sail to fight ocean pollution
Emily Penn eXXpedition co-founder — Nomad Nmeumonics

The eXXpedition crew is entirely female, made up of change-makers from all around the world. Led by the directorship of award-winning ocean advocate and eXXpedition co-founder Emily Penn, the participants of this adventure include scientists, teachers, filmmakers, photographers, and athletes, to name a few. 

Connected by a passion for protecting the ocean, this two-year voyage will enable 300 women to contribute to scientific research and solutions-based thinking. The team of participants will go to sea as a hands-on crew, experiencing the challenges that single-use plastics create for ocean life. They will get to collect samples from some of the planet’s most diverse marine environments, working towards building a stronger understanding of what the state of the ocean looks like. The adventure aims to pinpoint innovative solutions to rid the oceans of plastic pollution. 

Making Waves: All-female research team sets sail to fight ocean pollution
eXXpedition Rachel Lucas


The most recent mission departed on March 9th, 2020, right after International Women’s Day. The eXXpedition crew departed from Easter Island and set sail for Leg 8 of the mission, traveling along the Pacific Ocean to Tahiti.

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

The eXXpedition crews sail through some of the most diverse marine environments that the planet has to offer. The journey had crossed four of the five circular ocean currents, as well as the Arctic. So far, the eXXpedition Round the World has covered nearly 8000 nautical miles and has made stops in Antigua, San Blas, Panama, and Galapagos. 

Making Waves: All-female research team sets sail to fight ocean pollution
eXXpedition Rachel Lucas


Apart from a love of the oceans we all share, the eXXpedition around the world aims to celebrate women in STEM, while contributing to innovative, solution-focused research. 

“Despite significant progress, women are still underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) sectors,” eXXpedition shared in a press release announcing the team’s departure from Easter Island on March 8th.

Globally, women only occupy 13% of the STEM workforce – and that includes healthcare professionals. “The unseen nature of women in STEM and sailing coupled with the unseen challenge of microplastics became the catalyst for developing the all-female program with the aim of ‘making the unseen, seen.’”

Making Waves: All-female research team sets sail to fight ocean pollution
eXXpedition Sperry


Over the two years that the eXXpedition has been running, 300 women from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines have been part of the on-board crew.

“When you think about pregnancy, and the fact we can pass [these harmful chemicals] to our children made me realize that this is quite a women-centered issue.

That’s why for the first eXXpedition in 2014, we decided to tackle it with a team of women,” Penn explained in a press release.

By including an array of powerful global change-makers, the eXXpedition has built a network of Ambassadors who can share the knowledge they have acquired during their time at sea. These women will be able to implement solutions back on land by directing attention toward the ocean plastic crisis, shifting the way people think and feel about single-use plastics.

“Their experiences at sea make them influential change-makers back on land,” Penn added.

Every year, 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the sea. The plastic breaks down into tiny particles, about the same size as plankton. 

“Having researched plastic at sea for several years I began to understand that the real challenge we face is microplastics. Tiny pieces, smaller than your fingernail that can get into the food chain, along with other chemical pollutants, pesticides, and flame retardants, that exist in our ocean,” says Penn. These particles can be ingested by marine life, harming ecosystems and the food chain – which then impacts us.

“There’s nothing more important than saving the planet. We live here,” says Candy Medusa, UK artist, and eXXpedition participant.

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