On a voyage to find answers to plastic waste
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/