Our plastics, our selves
What’s plastic doing to our bodies? This all-female team is investigating.
When I arrive at the marina in Victoria on a late-July morning, the sky and water are complementary shades of azure, and there is not one cloud in the sky — a Pacific Northwestern idyll. On the deck of the 72-foot shiny-bright Sea Dragon, moored here in the island capital of British Columbia for just one day, are four young women, part of the crew of the research voyage “eXXpedition.” They’re hauling heavy buckets of black sludge up to the deck from the ocean floor, their labor set to a tinny radio serenade of Drake and Selena Gomez.
The team will meticulously pack the sludge — actually wet sand from the harbor floor — into little glass jars like you would some fresh vegetables you planned to pickle. These jars will be added to a library of sand, water, and air samples that they’ve collected over the past six weeks from across the North Pacific. They’ll ship some of those samples off to Plymouth, England, to be analyzed by eXXpedition’s marine scientist Imogen Napper. The idea is that by cataloging this library, she and the team will begin to get a better sense of what kind of plastic is out there in the ocean.
One thing they already know, because they’ve seen it every day for weeks: There is a whole lot of it. The Sea Dragon, with an all-woman crew of 14 aboard, launched from Hawaii in mid-June, traversing a part of the North Pacific Gyre known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a swirling mass of trash the size of two Texases. The name conjures the image of great islands of refuse gently bumping up against each other, like a Waterworld made of old tires and sandwich bags. But, as eXXpedition founder Emily Penn tells me as we sway a bit on deck, it’s really more of a plastic soup, trillions of little bits and particles seasoning a million square miles of ocean.
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