A Journey Across the Gyres: Posts from eXXpedition, an exploration of ocean toxicity eXXpedition Crew Science, Science & Medicine In November 2014, 14 women boarded the Sea Dragon to depart on an eXXpedition: a sailing trip across the Atlantic Ocean to explore how the health of our environment impacts human health. The all-female crew engaged in an inspiring narrative of female leadership, personal and environmental exploration, and cultural conversation. The eXXpedition’s mission is to examine the issue of chemicals, endocrine disrupters, and carcinogens in our personal and global environment that can cause disease, in particular raising awareness of those linked to the rise in breast cancer rates. By engaging women in scientific narratives relating to the consumer choices they make, the hope is that women will understand their long term health impacts on themselves and our environment. Along the eXXpedition voyage, the team sampled the Atlantic oceans for plastic and pollutants, feeding these samples to wider studies investigating the impacts of toxics and plastics pollutants linking this sampling to narratives of ecosystem health, personal health, and the products human societies consume. For more on the journey, read this Hippo Reads exclusive interview with one of the boat’s participants, Dr. Diana Papoulias. Dr. Papoulias spoke with our science editor, Wudan Yan, about her experience on the trip, and why we should be more cognizant of our day-to-day activities on land. The below posts were originally published on the eXXpedition blog. Blog 1: Sea Dragon sets sail with all-female XX chromosome crew from Lanzarote Nov. 16, 2014 After five days in Marina Lanzarote, taking part and leading workshops/talks for the Atlantic Odyssey, Sea Dragon and her team of 14 female changemakers has finally set sail! After crossing the line with 34 Atlantic Odyssey boats, we set a course between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura heading out into the BIG WIDE ATLANTIC OCEAN! At first the winds were light, however later it picked up and we were doing 10 knots beating into the wind. This promptly helped half the crew feed the fishes! The first day has involved lots of training and getting the crew accustomed to the boat and sailing – half of which have never sailed before, let alone crossed an ocean! We swing between excited and a bit of anxiety about what lies ahead… We are still new to each other and tentative about how to approach one another. Like the weather, one minute we are so sunny and animated and the next a dark sky as either seasickness or tiredness takes hold, but it quickly passes. We are divided into three watches, led by Emily, Shanley, and Anne. We are adjusting to the rhythm of the watch schedule that organizes the work that needs to be done aboard among smaller groups for 4 or 2 hour periods. During these hours we haul the lines, steer the vessel, cook and clean but share our stories with our watch mates. Each watch has a scientist and a media guru. As yet we have not been trawling for plastic as we are still in Spanish waters, however we have spotted floating marine debris which we have been entering into the Marine Debris Tracker app – designed by our very own crewmember – Jenna Jambeck! The crew that can eat, have been eating extremely well thanks to our on-board Chef/Scientist, Lucy Gilliam. Last night’s meal was a delicious ‘Sailors See At Night’ stew, choc full of tasty vegetables with tons of beta-carotene and served with thyme dumplings! Lucy is particularly delighted with the gimbled stove in the galley. On the morning of our second day, we’ve already weathered our first storm, but have also spotted dolphins and rainbows, and had shooting stars to entertain us at night – so, swings and roundabouts! Our heading is now due west as we pass the last of the Canary Islands. We expect the wind to shift tomorrow and start heading further south. Fair winds! ** Nov. 18 and 19, 2014 1200 27°25.88N 22°42.26W The sea conditions, like a giant washing machine, have locked our “dragon” onto a point of sail too tilted and unstable to do anything but basically follow our daily routines. Malin commented that the sensation of the boat’s motion made her feel drunk and Jen felt it was akin to being in a washing machine. Our days are timed by our shifts, where we get up 15 minutes before, get into all our wet weather gear and life jackets, and pop out be it rain or sun, day or night. As we listen to the watch handover by the watch leader, we hand over some smiles to the tired crew about to crawl into their dry and cosy places below. And we get some back. The energy among us is one of companionship and care, as we move deeper into the moody Atlantic. One thing we are all learning or re-learning is that sailing is really about being present in the moment and dealing with change as it comes along. Our routines haven’t kept us from observing the surrounding environment with wide eyes though. From the bright stars that spark through the dark clouds in the evenings – and are making the delight of those of have apps that allow to track their stories – to the trail of phosphorescence left in our wake. Shearwater seabirds that appear out of nowhere, gliding through the wave crests. A massive pod of Atlantic spotted dolphins coming up at sunset and providing us with a few minutes of fun and harmony. Rainbows coming from all sorts of angles as clouds packed with rain hover the horizon and around us. And a plastic bottle floating every now and then, reminding us of human presence as we move further and further from civilisation. ** Nov. 23 and 24, 2014 24°45.25’N 33°26.65’W Overnight, a new passenger joined us on board. One of the Atlantic’s liminal flying fish, existing magically in the borders between air and sea, fetched up on deck – to the great delight of our master dissector, Diana. A late night analysis of the creature’s stomach contents showed an all-natural last meal. There was no plastic visible under the microscope. The fish had fed on small shrimp and fish larvae, such as we had seen in our first manta trawl. It seems that this was a healthy fish, just a little too curious about life on board Sea Dragon. Our day then proceeded to continue smoothly. The sun was shining and Sea Dragon was sailing wing-on-wing. This diamond sail combination makes a beautiful sight against the cool blue sky. At 1pm sharp it was time for our second manta trawl, which we accomplished smoothly in 1 hour 20 mins. Shanley assures us that this is a great time for our second attempt, and we are all pretty excited at the prospect of breaking some kind of record. We’re hoping to be down to 1 hour by the time we reach Martinique – let’s see if we’re up for the challenge! What was even better than our time was the result of the sample. It brought up 3 fragments of plastic. Although it still feels wrong to find any plastic this far from civilisation, we all felt a bit lighter when the sieves came up almost empty. But stay tuned, and we’ll let you know the count for tomorrow… Another beautiful sunset cast the backdrop for our evening’s presentation. This time we heard from our second mate, Anne Baker. Anne’s varied background in engineering and psychology, combined with years of sailing, have given her a rich and diverse store of life experiences. She took us through her change making ventures, working for important companies in a range of industries – automotive, airline, food, sports, housing – and her long-term volunteering with the Sea Rangers in the UK. We all listened carefully as she distilled the lessons learned when trying to bring about change through these different environments and challenges. Intrigued by Anne’s knowledge of human resources, Lucy posed the question of gender balance in high-level positions. For Anne, it seems only slight changes have occurred, as in her experience boards of directors have continued to be mainly male-dominated. This sparked several discussions, but we agreed in the end that the core is to find inclusive solutions where men are partners in improving access to women to decision-making. Also in educating our children about the issue of gender inequality and why it matters. This is not just an equality issue, but rather an investment in a balanced and resilient society, fit for dealing with increasing change and complexity. Although the conversation was captivating we had to break it to enter the first night shift in our new time zone. We have been in GMT-1 for 3 days now, but we decided to wait until today to make our first cross Atlantic time adjustment. We wanted to wait, as we were reluctant to make a change that would ensure we were eating dinner in the dark. Being the masters of our own time, of our own distinct time zone, is just one of the many forms of magic that is occurring on board Sea Dragon… ** Nov. 26 and 27, 2014 23 00.36 N, 40 55.11 W Today is a very special day: we have reached the halfway point in our journey! 1300 miles crossed and we have officially entered the tropics, leaving the Tropic of Cancer behind. Funny enough we were greeted with strong winds, choppy waves and frequent squalls that brought back memories of the beginning of the journey. The helm required a lot of concentration, as the 4 metre waves swiped us sideways. This weather also meant we couldn’t put the manta trawl out so we had a documentary afternoon session instead. The theme was on endocrine disruptors and we screened “Endocrination.” We watched carefully as we followed the amazing lobby power of the pesticide and chemical industry in Europe, defending their interests. This investigative film clearly shows how this industry has been successful at highjacking the scientific process undertaken by the European Commission’s environment directorate to regulate endocrine disruptors. Although it is no surprise of how short-term economic benefits are still prioritized over long-term human health and well-being, it is still troubling to see it so clearly. It also means that consumer education was never so important. Our individual choices are still ours to make. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are present in all sorts of industrial, agricultural, household, cosmetic and food products to name a few sectors. Many of their harmful consequences on our environment and our health are beginning to be understood. So while these substances continue to be unregulated, if there is one message that should be passed on to each of us it is to “learn more, use less.” As the evening came along, we all jumped outside to get some fresh air of hope and listen to the story of the night. This time it was Sue’s turn. She spoke passionately and beautifully about community spirit, drawing on her experience at the all-women’s protest in Greenham Common in the 80s. Her presence here is like an embodiment of the endurance of female power, and she eloquently helps us all to feel the strength that can and needs to be drawn from our shared journey. She reads us Joanna Macy and Anita Barrow’s translation of Rilke, A Year with Rilke, by moonlight, and we all get goosebumps… And yet, though we strain against the deadening grip of daily necessity, I sense there is this mystery: All life is being lived. Who is living it, then? Is it the things themselves, or something waiting inside them, like an unplayed melody in a flute? Is it the winds blowing over the waters? Is it the branches that signal to each other? Is it flowers interweaving their fragrances, or streets, as they wind through time? Is it the animals, warmly moving, or the birds, that suddenly rise up? Who lives it, then? God, are you the one who is living life? We have truly formed a community on board Sea Dragon, one where we ebb and flow around, about and amongst each another. The quiet strength that comes from us all is growing day by day, forming something that feels new and brave and exciting. This contrasts starkly with how the trip was often perceived before we set sail. Each and every one of us heard comments like, “A boat of all women – a cat fight waiting to happen! Why would you want to do that?!” Comments that came from both men and women. Where does this come from, and why is it being perpetuated, when our experience here and Sue’s knowledge of working with women’s groups, indicate something far from that. ** Nov. 27, 2014 22 36.10 N, 42 05.69 W Happy Thanksgiving, America! We celebrated this holiday with three of our American shipmates – Diana, Shanley & Jenna. For many, it was their first Thanksgiving and although there was no turkey or “tofurkey” in sight, the occasion was complete with pancakes and the last of our fresh fruit (Eek!). The day ended with a bright moon on the water and each of us sharing what we are grateful for. Reflections on our current journey as well as tributes to family and friends were recurring themes. Also, our gratefulness to each other for creating an environment of support, caring and harmony in our floating shelter, very far from home. But wait! We are getting ahead of ourselves here. Due to continued conditions at sea making trawling impossible – we were able to have two talks today instead of one. So, in our ‘hour of science’ we heard from our resident aquatic toxicologist, Diana, about her amazing career pushing boundaries and exploring endocrine disrupters in fish habitats throughout the US. Her typically infectious smile and laugh ebbed as we discussed the seriousness of the situation. However, her passion and energy for action was inspiring to us all, emphasizing that we must adopt a whole system view to combat the problem – not just focus on the impacts that humans alone will experience. The focus on animals continued in our evening talk, given by one of our artists in residence, Laura. She spoke of an animal that changed her life – Waora – a puma saved from the Bolivian black market that she has helped to rehabilitate in an animal refuge over the past 8 years. Laura returned from her initial time with Waora to a very different England from the one she’d left. She found herself changed and with a new passion to share her experience of connecting with nature through art. She created an amazing gallery space in Brighton, establishing a charity – ONCA – and has since worked with over 1,000 artists to explore our multifaceted and complex relationship with the world around us. It was after this that we gave our thanks, and she finished the evening with a quote from Keri Hulme’s The Bone People. It is incredible, that one quote can encapsulate so much of how we feel about what we are doing here, in the middle of the Ocean: They were nothing more than people, by themselves. Even paired, any pairing, they would have been nothing more than people by themselves. But all together, they have become the heart and muscles and mind of something perilous and new, something strange and growing and great. Together, all together, they are the instruments of change. ** Dec. 1, 2014 It is December! We celebrated the sunny warm day by happily singing and dancing along with “Feliz Navidad” and “All I want for Christmas is You” (we had excitedly awaited for the first day of December to play some Christmas music). It was another really hot day, and we crowded in the small area of shade when on deck (which is really conducive to great chats!) and made sure we drank plenty of water. Not long after settling in we had cheerful visitors… dolphins splashed alongside the boat, jumping and playing with us and each other. It was like they too, were celebrating this day. Later on, during our normal science routine of trawling for microplastic (we found one piece of plastic this time), we had a bit of a surprise, a small clear bubble in our sample with blue tentacles… a Portuguese Man-o-War! It was beautiful and a bit scary at the same time. We were careful not to touch it but picked it up with tweezers and examined its intricate details. Then we put it back in the ocean. After our trawl work, we had a mission. We are supporting a campaign called The Future (the-future.net). This campaign is spreading awareness on climate change and telling our politicians “we are keeping an eye on you,” by watching the political process and policies being created (or lack thereof). To represent The Future campaign, we encircled one eye with black or red makeup (eco-friendly) and took photos to share. We feel our mission of exposing toxics in our environment is connected to The Future’s mission as well. The consumption of fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas fracturing contribute both to climate change while also producing toxics in our environment. Emissions include mercury from coal and endocrine disrupting chemicals from fracking, as well as plastics and petrochemicals from oil used in personal care and cleaning products. We are also reflecting on the fact that December 2 is the 30th Anniversary of the terrible events in Bhopal, India that killed many and exposed thousands to toxics, events which are still unfolding and continuing to impact lives today. Our talk last evening came from our amazing filmmaker, Jen. Jen spoke from her heart to tell us her story of how she became a filmmaker as well as how she found eXXpedition. Her overall message, finding the good even in the midst of terrible hardship and sad events, resonated with many of us and brought tears to our eyes. The story of cancer hits home for Jen and she honors her grandmother and cousin both going through treatment currently for breast cancer. She also honors her Aunt Sue through this journey and many of her other amazing expeditions. We all admire Jen’s strength, resilience, and as always, her amazing sense of humor. We can tell we are getting closer to land as some of the birds have changed and the dolphin sightings are increasing… we are cherishing our final days together on Sea Dragon and hatching some amazing plans for the future… so stay tuned! ** Dec. 2, 2014 17 47.97 N, 54 04.76 W The miles really are beginning to speed by, despite the constant presence of gruelling heat and flat seas. Our skipper spoke the truth when she told us at the midway point that the days would now start to feel shorter and quicker. They are slipping through our fingers, and as the sun rises on Tuesday and we really start to imagine the day and time of our arrival in Martinique, every moment seems precious. Another pod of dolphins accompanies our morning watch, and the sea that before felt neverending now seems to be carrying us ever closer towards land. Seaweed floats by and this morning a land bird alighted on our bow, hitching a ride towards the shore. Our science continues, and today not only do we trawl but we have a hairdressing session on deck as the evening sky turns golden. Scissors sterilised, we clip a lock of hair from each of us and deposit them safely in airtight bags. These will be delivered to the Biodiversity Research Institute to be tested for mercury. Mercury is highly toxic, bioaccumulating and biomagnifying through the food chain. The UNEP Minamato Convention regulates global mercury emissions, but mercury is now circulating in the environment at three times the level it was pre the industrial revolution. For the majority of people, the main exposure is from contaminated fish, mainly the top predators like tuna, swordfish and whale. We are interested to see how different our mercury levels are, as each of us has grown up with different diets and in different parts of the world. It is then our first mate, Shanley, who finishes off the evening with a presentation. It is a real pleasure to hear stories from our mast-climbing koala who has been our stalwart teacher throughout this voyage. She simply glows as she describes her passion for the ocean, and her love of her job as permanent first mate on board Sea Dragon. Shanley grew up by the sea, and has simply never wanted to be apart from it. Even to the extent that when she did find herself living in landlocked mid-US, she found herself driving for hours at a time simply to reach the ocean. She is one of those people who just belongs at sea, and since she found her way onto a boat in the Caribbean, as she describes it, she’s never really been off a boat since. Her passion comes through as she shows us some of the beautiful photographs she’s taken throughout her travels. It has been a joy to be guided through this adventure by her, and to know that even after our eXXpedition ends, she will still be on board Sea Dragon continuing to share her passion with people around the world. Off the bow, the sun sets and for the first time, we see a moonbow – bright rings of rainbow colours around the moon as she rises high above our sails. It is a clear night; our watch teams change and this moon makes a smooth arc across the sky, finally setting in bright orange at around 4am. Another day, another adventure on the Atlantic. ** Dec. 4, 2014 Thursday December 4th saw us experiencing mounting excitement at the prospect of reaching our goal, landing in Martinique. It was also one of our more magical days and evenings, with Mother Nature herself providing an incredible show. We entered an awestruck silence with the wonder of the setting sun, only to be further stunned in looking back to the stern of Sea Dragon, where we were framed by a spectacular rainbow around the rising moon. It was so unexpected and never before experienced by all of us, and seemed to encapsulate the spirit of this voyage across the deep ocean; a series of many firsts. Too close to land to do more science in the afternoon, we finished our series of talks with Emily, our skipper. She took us on a journey of her life, studies and ultimately her thrilling adventures at sea, which have helped to shape her philosophy that brings us all here. Emily was one to “never say never”, leaving one career to pursue her adventures both on sea and land, all of which were geared toward building awareness of and creating more sustainable communities around the globe. With “arms wide open” she has participated in grassroots initiatives in islands in the Pacific that had us all agog. This led to a wide ranging discussion around the many eXXpedition events, education initiatives and projects that will be pursued by all of us in the months and years ahead. Many of these projects will see cross continent collaboration among members of the crew, who are coming away from this grand adventure with greater resolve and a sense of hopefulness in carrying the mission of eXXpedition further, beyond the decks of Sea Dragon and into our communities. We also spent our last evening at sea celebrating Lucy and her yet to be born child, our little male stowaway. Jenna led a Blessing Way ceremony which included blessings and intentions from each of us, and Lucy was pampered with a cushioned seat, much coveted by all of us. Finally, before heading to our bunks for a final sleep at sea, or to the last late evening watch, we were treated to some wonderful tributes from Constanca, who shared her visions of each of us as our animal or animated selves. Included in our blessing for Lucy was this traditional Celtic blessing, the words of which echo the experience of each of us through these weeks of sailing across an entire ocean: Deep peace of the running wave to you, deep peace of the quiet earth, Deep peace of the flowing air to you, deep peace of the shining star May peace, may peace, may peace make you whole May peace, may peace, may peace fill your soul. ** Dec. 5, 2014 ……Land Ho!! Lights were spotted on the distant horizon at 4am by Sea Dragon’s second mate, Anne. This soon grew to resemble a string of twinkling lights, and as dawn broke we could see the island of Martinique take shape with its volcanic peak and lush, green wooded slopes. After negotiating a minefield of fishing pots and lines we were able to get our mainsail down and prepare the boat for entry into the marina at Le Marin. It was so strange and exciting to know that our feet would soon touch ground after nearly 3 weeks at sea. Would we be able to walk, stagger, or somehow navigate our way to real showers? We were greeted by a representative from the Atlantic Odyssey and members of the local community who graciously provided us with a basket of local products. We were also congratulated by crews from the two boats who crossed the finish line first, together, just one day before us. Bursting out of the confined space, after landing and checking in, the crew scattered to buy ice cold drinks and ice creams. We made calls and sent updates to family and friends who had been closely and anxiously following our journey. In fact, it was wonderful to know that so many of you had been following our journey so closely, making it feel to all of us that we were not so alone and isolated on the great ocean expanse. Thank you to all of you who did so. It did not take us long to get our land legs, and we followed tradition by dining at a local restaurant, Mango Bay, where we enjoyed Caribbean cocktails and food. We all sensed the outside world pressing in on our bubble at sea, with the cacophony of sounds and so many people. We could all sense that the time together was growing short and our new found friendships would have to be maintained at a distance. This incredible experience has left a mark on us all in quite unique ways and is likely only to be fully appreciated after our return to our homes and busy, daily lives, only days away. While this is our last blog of the eXXpedition Atlantic adventure, this will not be the last posting to the eXXpedition site. Stay tuned for continuing updates on our projects and initiatives in the coming months. XX! Receive updates on the eXXpedition’s publications, events, and more by following on: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eXXpeditionSeaDragon Twitter: https://twitter.com/eXXpedition eXXpedition Atlantic 2014 from eXXpedition on Vimeo.