The Admirable and Inspiring Female Explorers Who Study Plastic in the Ocean

The Admirable and Inspiring Female Explorers Who Study Plastic in the Ocean


National Geographic has named them “Women of Impact”. They are women scientists, journalists, influencers, environmentalists, and filmmakers. First and foremost, they are all brave and amazing pioneers and adventurers, out at sea, studying plastic in the ocean and doing something about it!

Read a highly inspiring article on eXXpedition – the all-female research expedition that investigates causes of and solutions to the issues of plastic in the ocean and global plastic pollution.

A scientific, all-women round the world sailing adventure

eXXpedition is a project that deserves tremendous respect, not merely because of the scientific aspect or the willingness and eagerness to really change things, but also due to the fact that the sailing crew is made up entirely of women.

Amazing eXXpedition footage from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Going on an expedition sailing the ocean demands a lot of courage. It simply isn’t for everyone. These women scientists, activists and influencers go out there, study the environment for weeks, collect massive amounts of data on plastic in the ocean, return to land and then spread the word, so that we can do things differently in the near future and understand why we have to do them differently.

So, why are there only women scientists on this expedition?

Well, that’s another highly admirable aspect of eXXpedition, or rather, it is the project’s core idea.

“eXXpedition began as an all women venture as we are investigating the impact of microplastics and toxic chemicals on female health: these chemicals disrupt hormones which are key in pregnancy, and we can pass them on to our children. But I was blown away by how key the ‘all women’ aspect of these voyages has become. There is something unique about taking a passionate group of women to sea. Boundaries are let down as we overcome challenges together. Bonds form fast and last for life.” – Emily Penn

women scientists
Skipper Emily Penn on one of many round the world sailing voyages

Co-founder of eXXpedition, ocean advocate and skipper Emily Penn has spent the last decade exploring plastic in the ocean, from the tropics to the Arctic, and now splits her time between running eXXpedition and developing upstream solutions on land with a network of changemakers, corporate partners, scientists and government bodies.

You being the skipper, how many round the world sailing expeditions of this nature have you undertaken throughout the years?

“I’ve been working on this issue for 12 years, with 8 years of those spent at sea researching plastic pollution in our oceans. Prior to eXXpedition Round the World, we completed 11 eXXpedition voyages to carry out research with amazing women from around the world. And on this next mission, we will have completed a further 30 voyage legs.”

women scientists on an expedition
One of many expeditions
The crucial link between microplastics and women

Emily and all the other great women who are part of eXXpedition are the link between the ocean, the plastic pollution in it and humanity as a whole! Not only do they care deeply about the ocean and all its inhabitants, but also about our health and, ultimately, the well-being of the entire species.

Related Article: The Environmental Sustainability Consultant Who Chnages the World

Because the more plastic there is in the ocean, the more microplastics there are out there. The more microplastics, the more do fish and other organisms ingest them. The result is seafood that is loaded with both microplastics, chemicals and pesticides, so called POPs – Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Microplastics in the ocean

As we are eating plenty of fish, fish eggs, sea weeds, plankton, seafood, etc, these pollutants end up in our bodies. And this means bad news, especially for women!

“A lot of those chemicals act as endocrine disruptors; they mimic hormones. So, for us girls, having them inside us during pregnancy and the potential to pass them on to our children, is a very big deal. Hence, we wanted to tackle this women’s health issue with an amazing all-women crew.” – Emily Penn

eXXpedition’s women scientists collecting microplastics in the ocean

Emily and eXXpedition, which by the way is spelled with an extra X because of the female chromosome, hit the nail on the head! They both made the conscious decision to go out there and study as much as they can about plastic in the ocean and how to tackle it, AND they made it their own, personal business. And as it is women who give birth to every single human being on this planet, the global plastic pollution, and the related health issues surrounding it, MUST become our business!

In order to be able to conduct their world-renowned research on microplastics, the women of eXXpedition are focusing on three key areas of the marine ecosystem:

1) The surface water – scanned using mantra trawls
The Admirable and Inspiring Female Explorers Who Study Plastic in the Ocean 1
2) The subsurface water – sampled with NISKIN bottles
The Admirable and Inspiring Female Explorers Who Study Plastic in the Ocean 2
3) The subtidal sediment – using a Van veen sediment grabber

Related article: The Return of the Mighty Northeast Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

I want to thank all of the amazing women scientists of eXXpedition for their formidable actions and research! This first section of the article will be ending with one more question that I asked Emily, based on the fact that she has gathered a tremendous amount of knowledge and insights about the ocean plastic problem over the years.

What’s the most valuable thing you have learned out there at sea, when it comes to plastic in the ocean?

“First that the islands of rubbish don’t exist. It’s actually a soup of microplastics; and you can’t extract it because it’s the same size as marine life, so we have to go back to the source and turn off the tap.”

Spreading the word about plastic in the ocean – on land

During the voyages, some women study the ocean and the plastic in it, while others document and record the journey, in order to spread awareness on land, later on. One of them is Brynn Baker from Minnesota, a journalist, editor and writer, and an expert in her field. This July, she will embark on one of eXXpedition’s round the world sailing voyages, from Cairns to Darwin, Australia, sailing along the Great Barrier Reef and just south of 18,000 Indonesia islands, like Bali.

round the world sailing Brynn
Brynn Baker and her 3 boys

Brynn is one of the amazing women who are setting out to change our reality and make the world a better, and cleaner place. She has all the reasons to do so, being a mother of three, and I was very happy when she accepted to answer my interview questions.

What were your feelings when you found out that you got accepted on board and realized that you would be part of that amazing expedition?

“I was actually hiking with my mom and boys when I found out. We were wading through a stream at the base of some cliffs in northern Iowa. We didn’t have cell reception all day because we were so deep in the ravine. For a split second, I had service and got an email notification saying “Congratulations Brynn, I’m so excited to…” that’s it, that’s all I read before I looked up at my mom and said, in complete shock, “I got it.”

“After a minute of silence, I just started dancing and eventually fell to my knees with happy tears running down my sunburned face. I knew my chances of being chosen for eXXpedition were next to nothing, but I chose to have high hopes until I knew for sure.”

plastic in the ocean
4ocean is sponsoring Brynn’s expedition

Related article: The Next Ocean Plastic Frontier – 4ocean’s Incredible Project Guatemala

4ocean consistently finds its way into All Good Newz‘ content and this article is no exception. The other week, I published a big feature article on the ocean heroes, and the day after, a LinkedIn post about 4ocean sponsoring Brynn showed up in the feed. That’s how I found out about both Brynn and eXXpedition.

As eXXpedition is a non-profit organization, chosen members have to raise their own funds, which naturally can become quite the challenge. So Brynn had the brilliant idea of simply reaching out to 4ocean, and, voilà!

How did 4ocean find you, what was their motivation to become your sponsor?

“I was in the middle of my fundraising, feeling exhausted. Every evening after work, I’d come home, eat dinner with my family, and then get to it. But funds simply were not adding up very quickly. That’s when my mom suggested I reach out to 4ocean, which I did.”

“A couple of days later, Tim Binder, Global Head of Brand at 4ocean contacted me through Facebook Messenger. “Hey Brynn, I just read your story. Thank you. You, and people like you, are exactly who we need to make change in this world! We love everything about this and are excited to support you on this incredible adventure.” The next morning, I had a sponsor.”

round the world sailing
Brynn and her favorite book, which she was the lead editor for

Already now, Brynn is preparing this voyage of a life time, and she has great plans for when she gets back home. All the powerful women who embark on this mission tell a different story, to different people from all kinds of different places around the globe. Brynn will use her editorial and journalistic expertise to tell her story, in the form of educational books. She will be writing both a chapter book about eXXpedition and the women she sailed with, as well as a book for children.

And what better way, to teach our children about plastic in the ocean and about a clean world, is there, than through the powerful medium of a book! Our re-education starts there and, over time, will transform into actual global change. All that knowledge, all that hitherto unseen and unspoken truth, that the eXXpedition crew is bringing back from their round the world sailing trips will be packaged and communicated out into the world, for us to understand and see it. And that’s exactly what Brynn is going to do!

round the world sailing
Sailing towards a cleaner future

The fact that you plan to publish educational books on plastic pollution for both grown ups and children is truly inspiring! Tell us more about the children’s book please! What will it focus on, how will you communicate the message?

“Nearly every book I’ve worked on is about science and the environment. I intend to write a book for 4-6th grade reading levels. Each page has a couple of paragraphs of text and an image. Kids love the ocean and anything to do with animals. I will teach them about different types of plastic, how it gets into the ocean, why animals mistake it for food, how it gets into our food chain, and how they can be the change by reducing waste and finding their voice to educate others.”

“My husband and our three boys are my biggest fans. My three boys (6th, 4th, 1st grade) love sharing my books with their classmates. It’s truly an honor to be able to educate, inspire, and empower the next generation to love and protect their planet. By April, I will officially be a National Geographic Certified Educator.”

In addition, Brynn has the ambition to encourage more girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), which is one of eXXpedition’s core goals as well.

The respect and gratitude I feel towards Brynn, Emily and all the other women of eXXpedition cannot be expressed properly through this article. All I can say is thank you for changing our world and being the brave, smart and powerful women you are!

All images provided by and property of Emily Penn, Brynn Baker and 4ocean.

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