Marine News from the Great Lakes

eXXpedition Great Lakes 2016

By:Elaine McKinnon and Jennifer Pate, Mission Co-Leaders

Published: Friday, May 13, 2016

EXXpedition is a series of all-female voyages with a long-term engagement program that explores the unseen plastics and toxins inside our waters and ourselves. Two women who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on the first eXXpedition in 2014, Jennifer Pate & Elaine McKinnon, are bringing this mission and vision to the Great Lakes this summer.

On August 20, all-female crews from Canada and the USA are sailing together for the first time on all five of the Great Lakes, Lake St. Clair, and the St. Lawrence River to shed new light on the link between human health and plastic in the world's waterways. The crews will be made up of women from a range of backgrounds including exploration, sport, science, technology, enterprise, and the arts. But most importantly, they are all Great Lakes residents passionate about protecting our water for future generations. These Lead Boats will be conducting sampling for plastics, specifically microplastics, as well a chemicals and toxins. The data collected will be provided to multiple organisations, including the United Nations. Our mission is to increase awareness of the presence of these contaminants, and to further encourage changes in behaviour that will lead to reductions in plastic and toxic pollution.

However, the solution to this environmental and human health issue demands effort from everyone. These crews are inviting citizens throughout the Great Lakes region to join them. In this one-day mass engagement event we hope to encourage the participation of all who are interested in making a difference. We aim to be the world’s largest simultaneous sampling for microplastics in history. That means eXXpedition Great Lakes 2016 is inviting everyone and anyone—male, female, adult, child, solo, or in groups—to take part in whatever way they can, wherever they can. The day is designed to celebrate our love for the Great Lakes through conducting citizen science on all its waterways, from a backyard river, to the middle of a Great Lake. We envision that participants will join in by boating, canoeing, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, swimming, or even just walking along the shorelines and beaches. In this way, everyone can be a part of this event, and a part of the solution.

Partnered with Adventurers & Scientists for Conservation, participants can take a water sample for the Worldwide Microplastics Project and have their sample analysed for free. The event has also partnered with two clean-up organisations, the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup in Canada and Alliance for the Great Lakes’ Adopt-a-Beach program in the USA, to help facilitate meaningful clean-ups throughout the region that contribute to global datasets, action, and awareness.

This event is important on so many levels. Concern about the potential link between plastics in the environment and human health has been growing since 2013, with evidence that microplastics may be able to transfer toxic pollutants and chemicals and enter the food chain. It was this topic in particular that led to the creation of eXXpedition, by its founders Emily Penn and Lucy Gilliam. One of our Great Lakes Science Leads, Professor Sherri Mason sums up just how critical this issue is.

"The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater ecosystem in the world, and they are magnificent. We are blessed to call them home. Unfortunately since the dawn of the industrial revolution they have been used as a dumping ground, a waste disposal area, a bad habit that in part sparked the awareness for environmental protections like the Clean Water Act, and the Great Lakes are improving as a result. Our work has lead to the awareness that we are polluting them in a whole new way, with a whole new material: plastic. The problem with plastic is that it doesn't biodegrade, it photo-degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, while largely maintaining its same chemical structure. As a result we are finding these microplastics by the tens of thousands scattered across the lake surface and within the fish and other aquatic organisms that live in these waters. Because these plastics are so small understanding the realities of this problem can be difficult. We tend to like to see to believe. Events like eXXpedition Great Lakes 2016 are so critical to making the unseen seen and thereby raising awareness. Getting people out doing the science helps all of us to understand the problem, but also helps us to appreciate the amazing natural wonder that are the Great Lakes."

Seeing the problem first hand is incredibly powerful. Once the unseen is seen, you cannot look away. This was the experience that shaped Jennifer and Elaine’s mission this summer on the Great Lakes. While crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the fall of 2014, both were struck by the evidence of plastic contamination in what appeared to be pristine ocean. As confirmed by Mission Co-Lead, Jennifer Pate, “We were alarmed by the high levels of persistent organic pollutants in our world’s waterways, the effects they could have on our bodies and above all – the fact that these issues go unseen, and are rarely talked about. By experiencing the problem and the research first hand, I knew I had to bring the eXXpedition mission and vision back home to the Great Lakes – so this event was born! In parts of the Great Lakes we have a higher density of microplastics then in any of the Ocean gyres. The problem isn’t just out there in the Oceans, but it’s right here in our backyard, in our lakes, and on our dinner plates. We are all a part of the problem, but that means we are also all an integral part of the solution. That’s why we are holding this event, to give people an opportunity to change the story and create a healthier future, not only for the Great Lakes, but also for the Oceans, the planet and themselves.”

EXXpedition Great Lakes is currently looking for a diverse range of applicants to take part. We are seeking interested women to join us on our Lead Boats, and are also hoping to recruit individuals who would be interested in leading marina-based, or land-based activities throughout the Great Lakes region. Registration is open for anyone and everyone who wants to take part no matter where you may be in the Great Lakes region on the 20th August 2016. If you are interested, please apply at:

Please contact us if you have any questions at [email protected].

tags: Events

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