Canadian scientists prep for 'eXXpedition' to study ocean debris-Calgary Herald

June 14, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

If the oceans die, we die.

It’s a grim statement about the state of pollution in the world’s oceans, and according to scientists from across the globe, the world’s “plastic problem” is getting worse.

According to National Geographic, there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean.

“This plastic disintegrates over time, breaks down, enters the food chain because the fish mistake the plastic for food, then it gets into the food chain and bioaccumulates,” explains Agathe Bernard, a geologist based out of Revelstoke, B.C.

“And we’re fishing it.”

Bernard is one of more than a dozen scientists, researchers and explorers planning an “eXXpedition” to the heart of the problem — one of five gyres in the world’s oceans, where tonnes of plastic debris has accumulated like a giant, floating landfill.

“It’s difficult to tackle the problem without fully understanding the problem,” says Bernard. “The south Atlantic has a gyre and it’s a portion that is not really well documented, so we’re trying to gather more data around it.”

The trip, which will take 14 women (the reason for the double-X in the expedition’s name) from the Ivory Coast to Brazil via Ascension Island on a 22-metre sailboat called the Sea Dragon.

The eXXpedition is the second all-female voyage of its kind, and also aims to educate and inspire young women.

“I think that it’s an amazing story of female empowerment and female leadership,” says Tegan Mortimer, a marine biologist. “That’s really important to me, the fact that we can go off and do this and be successful and be great role models for women in sciences and those sorts of fields which are mainly male-dominated.”

Each woman is on the boat for a different reason. Bernard is planning on filming the entire trip and creating a documentary about what the team discovered. Some are studying the toxins that can be found in the water where the plastic accumulates. Others, including Mortimer, will look at how the plastics are influencing marine populations.

Mortimer, who studies whales, said she’s troubled by the amount of damage ocean-borne plastic pollution is causing. She recalled a 2014 incident where a sei whale had died in the Elizabeth River, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay. A broken DVD case was found inside the whale’s body that had caused lacerations to her stomach and organs.

“Working with and watching whales, the idea that could happen to our whales is terrifying,” Mortimer said. “And actually, that happens to thousands of marine animals. Eventually it affects humans.”

Mortimer said she hopes the results of the group’s research will inspire people to think twice about their plastic usage.

“You impact the ocean that’s hundreds of miles away in ways that you might not think,” she said.

estark@calgaryherald.com

twitter.com/erikamstark


Comments

No comments posted.
Loading...
Subscribe
RSS
Archive
January February (1) March April May June (5) July August September October November December
January February March April May June July (3) August (6) September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December