Paddling for Cleaner Shores
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A scientist’s mind is often rational, curious and organized, but it doesn’t explain anything about timing and destiny. Ever since my family’s first vacation to Mexico to escape our Canadian winters, I have been in love with the ocean. Not a common interest for many land-locked Canadians, but something about the underwater world pulled me right under with them. Fifteen years later, I am living in San Diego, California, working for world renowned oceanographer, Sylvia Earle, and for a fisheries conservation lab.
Life works in funny ways. After clicking on a Facebook post about some cool women explorers who sail to plastic gyres around the world, I filled out a questionnaire and the next day I open my email inbox to learn that I was selected as a crewmember for eXXpedition Amazon, sailing on the 22 metre Sea Dragon.
In December of 2015, 13 adventurous women from around the globe and I will sail for 19 days to make the unseen seen, from the toxics in our bodies to the toxics in our seas. Our mission is to explore the issue of plastics, chemicals, endocrine disruptors and carcinogens in our personal and global environment that can cause disease. We aim to engage women in scientific narratives relating to the consumer choices they make, and their long-term health impacts on themselves and our environment. EXXpedition gives scientists, journalists, artists, filmmakers, educators, and designers an opportunity to collect data, footage and findings and bring change to our global society. In November 2014, eXXpedition launched the first mission setting sail across the Atlantic Ocean, and documented this voyage which is now available online. EXXpedition partners with organizations such as 5 Gyres Institute, Pangaea Exploration, the UN ‘Safe Planet’, among others.
This year will be a unique voyage since we have two back-to-back trips. The first crew of ladies will sail from Ascension Island to Brazil, crossing the open ocean in hopes of highlighting the levels of plastics and toxics in our waters, while inspiring the public to reflect on our social responsibility. Our trip will depart from Recife, Brazil and will cover the northern tip of South America, passing by the Amazon River mouth, sailing to Georgetown, Guyana. We have many research projects to collect samples for our partners at the 5 Gyres Institute, Orebro University, and Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation using techniques such as the “manta trawl” and other micro-plastic and sediment sampling. We are also organizing outreach events including beach cleanups and school visits in both Brazil and Guyana to help educate kids and their families about the impacts of garbage in our oceans.
I am most excited to help create language and content on plastics and toxics in our oceans and how it relates to our own health. With more and more research being done at places like the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre that show that microplastics are already entering our food webs, there has never been a more important time than now to educate consumers. Being able to connect the dots from scientific ocean exploration to public outreach and engagement is an important part of this journey.
EXXpedition is only in its second year, and a typical voyage costs about $160,000. Every crewmember needs to help raise funds for their spot on the voyage, or the ship does not sail. We all find our own sponsorship and funding from our family and friends back home, our communities, and from people like you reading this blog. People who want to be part of the change they want to see in the world. You can support my crowd funding campaign online, and find out more about my story at: www.igg.me/at/RachelAmazon2015
As my boss Sylvia A. Earle would say, “We need to act now; our oceans and our survival depend on it!”
Blog post by Rachel Labbé-Bellas, development coordinator at S.E.A. Mission Blue and research assistant at Scripps Institution of Oceanography UCSD (Semmens Lab). Rachel grew up in Montreal, Canada. She has a biology degree from McGill University and a Master’s ecology degree from Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil. Rachel is a quadrilingual and has lived in Panama, Barbados, Italy, Philippines, and Brazil, volunteering and studying tropical ecology.