On a voy­age to find an­swers to plas­tic waste

Western Morning News (Saturday) - - NEWS - Keith.ros­[email protected]­plc.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/

Alan Ste­wart

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