The crew is a part of a project called eXXpedition: a series of all-women sailing voyages aimed at combatting ocean pollution. 

Founder Emily Penn started the group back in 2014 when she was 27 years old. Her goal: to boost female participation in sailing and science careers through global expeditions.

The focus of the expeditions is to highlight the abundance of plastic and toxic chemicals, study its distribution in the world’s oceans, and address possible impacts on human health.

The group’s latest voyage is called eXXpedition Round the World. It’s a multi-year venture that will eventually travel to four of the planet’s five giant ocean gyres. 

EXXpedition’s crew comprises 300 women from over 30 nations, working in groups of 10 across 31 legs of the journey. 

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The inspiration for the voyage came from Penn’s research into Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). POPs are highly toxic chemicals that linger for years before breaking down. 

POPs in the ocean can lead to human exposure by working their way up the food chain. This process is called biomagnification and presents a serious health hazard to humans. 

Penn tested her blood for 35 different POPs and found traces of 29. 

“Being a woman, having those chemicals inside my body during pregnancy would be really bad news,” she says. “I thought, ‘Wow, this issue is actually quite a female-centered issue. Why not tackle it with an amazing team of women?'”

The team is focusing on microplastics, trawling the surface and scooping them from depths up to 25 meters (82 feet). The samples are then tested for POPs.

In March, the team’s voyage was postponed due to Covid-19. However, their work continues with advocacy online. 

“Our ocean doesn’t know political borders or cultural boundaries,” Penn says. “The great news is that there are hundreds of things we can be doing. There are hundreds of solutions, and the reality is we need all of them to be able to change this issue.”

“So much of our own impact … really starts with our daily choices — particularly our single-use plastic consumption,” she says. “If we can do without it, then let’s not use it.”

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