Western Morning News (Saturday)

On a voyage to find answers to plastic waste

- Keith.rossiter@reachplc.com > Dr Emma Rendle on the eXXpeditio­n yacht in Plymouth ■

FOR most of us a voyage across the remote expanses of the Pacific Ocean would be challenge enough, but for marine scientist Dr Emma Rendle it’s the culminatio­n of an even more difficult journey.

Emma, 38, who runs a consultanc­y – Resilient Coasts Ltd – based in the University of Plymouth’s Marine Building, has headed off to join the crew of an all-women yacht, eXXpeditio­n, on a voyage from Easter Island to Tahiti.

As part of a scientific programme developed by eXXpeditio­n and the university, she will be helping to collect and analyse water and sediment samples as part of the voyage’s mission to look at the global distributi­on of plastics and microplast­ics, from their sources on land to their dispersal and accumulati­on within the world’s oceans.

Emma’s passion for the oceans began during childhood holidays in

East Devon, where her grandmothe­r swam in the sea every day.

The love of the sea grew when she took up scuba diving at school. She travelled to the Red Sea to see wrecks, caves and coral reefs for the first time aged 18.

But out of the blue, on January 1, 2000, Emma started having seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy. She could no longer dive, or even work from a boat, and a neurologis­t warned her that she should abandon her dream of being a marine scientist.

“I decided to go with my heart and stubbornly follow a land-based marine science route through university,” she said.

She graduated from the University of Plymouth in 2001, with a BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Oceanograp­hy in 2004, and two years later completed a Master’s programme in Applied Marine Science.

Still the seizures continued.

After working in India as a coastal consultant for the Asian Developmen­t Bank in 2008, she returned to begin a PhD in Plymouth. Undaunted by her illness, she had taken up surfing, which introduced her to the idea of artificial surf reefs, which formed the basis of her PhD study, and in 2017 she started her consultanc­y.

For the past decade she has been seizure-free and, as a result, at the age of 38 was able to contemplat­e working offshore once again – starting with the eXXpeditio­n voyage.

She hopes that her story might inspire those with epilepsy and other neurologic­al conditions.

Emma will join leg eight of the voyage, departing from Easter Island tomorrow, and arriving in Tahiti on

April 1. She will travel to World Heritage Sites and globally important marine reserves, and uninhabite­d islands where she will see the impact plastic is having on the coastlines of remote Pacific nations.

“Plastic is a useful tool around which to base discussion­s around environmen­tal change because it is physical – you can see and touch it, and appreciate the effects it will have,” she said.

“There is a lot of talk about turning the tide on plastic but people struggle to see how.”

She hopes that seeing the effects of human and climate-induced pollution first hand will help her make a difference once back on dry land. A big part of eXXpeditio­n’s mission is to turn its female crew members into changemake­rs.

“Women are proactive, and when driven they are powerful together, so I think this is a great concept,” Emma said. “It is also a concept that I would like Resilient Coasts to be part of.

“Low-lying countries like St Lucia in the Caribbean are already desperatel­y trying to deal with their own waste and huge cruise ships. The burden of our waste problem is passed on to beautiful places without the infrastruc­ture to deal with it.”

Follow the boat at exxpeditio­n. com/news/track-the-boat/

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Alan Stewart

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