Setting sail to solve plastic pollution, the eXXpedition project

“We don’t need more data to prove we’ve got a problem, we just need to solve it.” Is the statement made by Emily Penn, an ocean advocate and skipper who has been working on the plastics issue for the last 12 years. Following the very same issue, in 2014 Emily co-founded eXXpedition. She is the mission director of the current voyage, Round the World, a 2-year voyage which started on 7th October 2019 and will continue to April 2021, counting on 300 women sailing 38000 nautical miles divided into 30 legs.

The very first leg of this voyage had the crew departing from Plymouth, UK, and sailing all the way to the island of S. Miguel in the Azores due to its proximity to the North Atlantic gyre. The AIR Centre decided to travel to the city of Ponta Delgada to meet the crew and learn more about this project. 

After a tour of the S.V. TravelEdge, a vessel equipped as a scientific expedition boat with electricity, powered by a solar panel and a windmill came the opportunity of chatting with Emily. This project consists in a series of all-women sea voyages, aiming to pinpoint solutions for the plastics in our oceans, educate through storytelling and building a community of changemakers.

The participants coming from all sorts of backgrounds may seem odd at first but as Emily states “There’s a different way that works for different people, because different things resonate with us, which is why we need a very multidisciplinary approach to solving the problem”.

Besides looking for funding and reaching every community, the crew also faces a fair share of challenges during their voyages, ranging from the use of scientific equipment while on board to dealing with harsh weather conditions while at sea. However, the matter at hands is more than enough to keep the crew motivated. “We’re living in this crazy linear way where we take oil from the ground, make something and then we just discard it.” Says Emily before mentioning that although many people have the luxury of being informed and concerned about the plastics in our ocean, there are plenty of individuals who have no access to this type of knowledge, therefore reinforcing the importance of shifting mindsets and educating as many people as possible.

The samples collected on board go through preliminary analyses, such as identification of plastic polymers in each piece, and then sent to the University of Plymouth and other collaborators to be further investigated. All the data collected during this project is made available to the public in order to help other projects focused on the cause. “The planet works in circles and if we want to be able to continue living on it, we must also live in circles.”


The Round the World leg #2 will go from the Azores to Antigua. The boat can be tracked here:

Additional information on the following legs can be found here: eXXpedition:


Relevant links:

eXXpedition Science Programme:

Emily Penn:

NOOA Podcast about Ocean Gyres –

Factsheet about Gyres and Plastic –

  • Inês Dinis Correia Mesquita | text and photo