eXXpedition Gratitude and Enlightenment
Thank you so much to the awesome group of people who have generously contributed to my eXXpedition research fund so far:
Vic, Barbara, and Luna Smith, Carolina Recycling Association, Sonoco Recycling, Wes Rider, Amber Parker, Starr Watson, Jim Ries and One More Generation, Keary Cunningham and Drew Smith and Neptune and Nutmeg Candles, Bonnie Monteleone and Plastic Ocean Project, Benjamin LeRoy, Laura Curtis, Ginger Taylor. Buff products, Lululemon of North Hills Raleigh, Wilmington Yoga Center, Rebecca Rider-Yopp, Amy Poe,
Rocco Possemato, Mike Dunn, Beth Montgomery, and Molly Matlock!
I am so grateful for your support and cannot wait to share the journey and outcome from this project!
When I started asking for support for this research trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect or what to say. I was not even sure I was going to start a funding site, but was encouraged to do so. This project hits really close to home since marine debris, plastic pollution prevention, and resource management is something that has shaped my life and career path. It is not easy to ask for money, even to fund a project like this one and especially from friends. For me, it is mostly due to fear of being let down by those I am closest to. This feeling comes only natural and if you ask anyone who has started or been involved in a non-profit or research project, chances are they will tell you the same. I have to remind myself that there are so many worthwhile projects out there and not everyone is as passionate about the ocean and the environment as I am.
When I was asked to join the crew for eXXpedition Amazon, I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was (am). A feeling of overwhelming inspiration and gratitude just consumed me. I feel like all the roads in my life have lead me here and to what I am doing now, not just eXXpedition of course, but almost everything that is going on in my life right now is happening because of where I grew up, the volunteer work I did throughout the years, the knowledge I have gained in my job for over 11 years, the many side projects, connections and collaborations along the way, and volunteer hours spent supporting other groups over many years. It is mostly the people I met along the way that inspired me to do more and delve deeper, quite literally deeper since my recent underwater obsession with scuba diving.
I’ve had a couple of people recently ask me if eXXpedition is part of my job. It is not part of my position in local government, but it is part of my duty as the person that I am. We don’t always get paid for what we are supposed to be doing in our lives and sometimes it takes money and resources to make it happen. With that said, I feel like I will be paid for the work on eXXpedition in the same way I was paid for volunteering and cleaning up beaches for NC Big Sweep and the Ocean Conservancy for over 25 years. Payment comes in the feeling you get when you are doing something you feel is necessary for your heart and soul (and for me, the planet), something not completely selfless, but not entirely selfish either.
Volunteering to make the world a better place most certainly counts as work. No matter if you are feeding hungry children, picking up trash on the beach, or giving care to orphaned wildlife, it’s feel good work, but still work. I find that the volunteer work I do with regards to marine debris is not only time consuming and physical work, but also it’s extremely emotional. Like many of you, I grew up on the water. I’ve lived on the coast my entire life and it hurts me to see what is happening to our marine ecosystems.
For this volunteer research eXXpedition, I will be taking almost an entire month of leave time from my job with local government (all approved and encouraged). Working over 11 years in a job that offers me vacation leave has afforded me the time off and by doing the eXXpedition project in December, it has also helped me avoid any important meetings, grant deadlines, and job related projects. While others are on vacation, spending time with family, and shopping for the holidays, I will be at sea collecting plastics. This all basically adds up to 32 days gone, 20 days I am taking off work (plus holidays and weekends), and that comes to 160 hrs of vacation time used (don’t gasp, I’ve been in the same job for over 11 years – I have a lot of leave time on the books).
The airline travel cost is exactly $1,056.00, which includes flights from Raleigh to Recife and in order to get a super discounted rate, I will be traveling for two days and taking four flights to get there. The total airfare costs also include a flight from Guyana to Trinidad and then Trinidad back to Raleigh via a connection in New Jersey – again, cheap flights sometimes mean strange and a few connecting flights with long, at times, layovers. Other expenses include my visa for Brazil, which including processing fees came to $250.00. My room and board before we set sail and after I get back off the boat comes to approximately $600, which includes hotel/hostel stays for 8 nights while in Brazil and Guyana, food, and transportation to solid waste facilities where I will be studying infrastructure, doing waste-audits, and meeting with officials and local groups. At sea, I have costs related to sail, vessel, and equipment maintenance, insurance, research station supplies and scientific equipment, port services and fees, professional crew, fuel, food, and communication expenses totaling $6,148.61 for the 20+ days at sea. This amount also includes other research related expenses as part of the full eXXpedition program. This makes a grand total (not including gear) of $8,054.61. UPDATED 9-20-15 – I have raised $4,700 in donations and $1,000 worth of travel gear sponsors so far, which is a great start and although I will be paid up by the end of August, I will still plug away for donations until I leave or until I reach my goal.
Some might ask, why? Why take that much time off work to do work that you’re not getting paid for and why spend that much money to study solid waste issues and plastics in the ocean? The reasons are very obvious to me, but let me share why they might be of interest to you.
Litter and pollution, marine debris, and improper disposal are the material manifestation of consumer behaviors worldwide and are not just an environmental issue. We don’t see the end result of failing to dispose of a plastic container properly, using single-use items on a daily basis and having them magically disappear for us at the curb, or that bag that blows away in the wind. Yet millions of tons of plastic pollution are washing through our streams and rivers, ending up eventually in huge gyres of plastic debris circulating in the world’s oceans. See the official 5gyres website (www.5gyres.com) for a full picture of the contamination. Scientists are even finding plastic pollution in the polar ice caps! At present, the ocean’s litter and plastic problem is increasing at the same rate as population growth and further.
The problem, although also environmental, is that improper disposal, litter, and pollution have negative impacts on our health and economy. That’s right, this involves your business’s bottom line and your wallet! Let’s say you own a surf shop or paddleboard company – do you think folks will rent or purchase equipment from you if the nearby beach is too polluted to swim in? How about your fish tackle shop or seafood business – do you think people are going to shop for tackle when there are no more fish to catch or eat your seafood if it is contaminated with plastic? The answer, my friend, cousin, and neighbor, is no. Just like the first law of ecology, so thus the laws of the economy, and that is everything is connected to everything. When one business looses money, we all do. Those taxes paid by that business that is loosing money also pays for your teacher’s salary, your fire department, police, and rescue services too. We are all more connected than most stop to consider.
No matter where the initial pollution comes from (it’s worldwide) the resulting outcome spreads and has an impact where you live too! Yes, your mother, daughter, grandchild, grandparents, future generations to come, and you are already feeling the impact! Do you know someone that is or has battled cancer? We all do! All of us!
The link between plastic pollution and cancer is not new information, yet we continue to make single-use products out of the same materials without slowing down, we are actually speeding up consumption at an unsustainable rate. According to the Center for Disease Control we are expected to see 19.3 million new cancer cases diagnosed each year. Americans continue to use 35-50 BILLION plastic water bottles a year! That’s just water bottles, not including other beverages and products. A dear friend of mine and a world renown environmental engineer at the University of Georgia, Dr. Jenna Jambeck, has found through her research that somewhere between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010. Find our more about this here: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768. The connections here are undeniable.
As part of this eXXpedition project we will be using the latest tools in citizen science using mobile and geolocation technologies to participate in global experiments to influence global change through collective research and documentary films. “eXXpedition” tackles a little talked about topic in a completely new/different way and hopes to create conversations that enable the general public to participate and use the gained knowledge to make informed consumer choices that have an impact on us all. We know that successful innovation rarely comes from within an industry – it takes outsiders tackling problems in fresh ways with a mix of disciplines to create solutions – like voting with your wallet to support companies making such sustainable innovations and not supporting companies that are making the problem worse. The power is in the consumer – that’s you!
Policymakers, politicians and the public remain largely unaware of the extent of the plastics problem and the magnitude of the threat to marine ecosystems and your own community environment. Plastics do not biodegrade on land or in water, instead becoming brittle in sunlight, photo-degrading, and breaking apart into ever-smaller bits of plastic, still containing toxic substances introduced during the manufacturing process. These plastics act like sponges for other toxins, leading to the bio-accumulation of toxins in the food chain – your food chain! Many of these chemicals are linked to disease and are found contaminating our bodies through food and consumer products. Plastic debris also threatens marine and terrestrial wildlife through entanglement or by clogging their digestive tracts.
By studying solid waste infrastructure on land we can see how effective or not these programs are at preventing litter, marine debris, and capturing materials to be reused, re-marketed, or properly disposed of. We also see what programs are effective and strive to work with officials to expand these programs and work on improving them as well. By doing landfill and trash audits, we see what the main consumer products are in an area. We can then use this info to tract trends and target producers and consumers with potential and proven solutions.
As part of this eXXpedition, I will also be studying what I find on the bottom of the ocean while conducting underwater cleanups while in Brazil and Guyana. This is a part of a two-part study being done on accumulation rates and also chemical absorption studies. I will also be using the Project AWARE method of surveying underwater areas and collecting data for their international database. While at sea, I will be part of a crew conducing surface sampling using manta trawls to collect plastics, including micro-plastics, while sailing from Recife, Brazil to Georgetown, Guyana. This research is in conjunction with the University of Georgia and the Marine Debris Tracker App data collection among others.
So now that you know more than you probably want to about eXXpedition, plastic ocean pollution, and my research projects, I will end with a note of thanks and gratitude for your support both monetarily and morally. In return, I will support your local business on my blog site (www.coastinista.com) with advertising and blog mentions and articles.
I appreciate every dollar donated and every high-five and good vibe sent my way along this journey. I also ask that you help me spread the word about marine debris, litter, pollution prevention, plastic-use reduction, and eXXpedition.
Thank you for supporting eXXpedition and my journey to “make the unseen seen”! Not one, but all. Together is better!
Con mucho amor,
A recent development is that I am affiliated with the Plastic Ocean Project (POP inc. – a 501c3 non-profit organization) which has offered to except donations on my behalf which assures that your donation is tax deductible. For more information on tax deductible donations, please email RidTheSeaOfMarineDebris@gmail.com. Other donations can be made on the go-fund-me site listed on the side bar of this blog site.
I was asked recently to give several presentations at local libraries about “Environmental Heroes”. This took some thought and consideration, because throughout my life I have had so many.
My first environmental hero is my dad, George Victor Smith. He taught me how to enjoy nature. I grew up with my beautiful sister, Drew, right along the ICW in Beaufort, NC. Days were filled with marsh mud up to my ankles (sometimes knees) and playing with periwinkles from the marsh grass or frogs from the ditch. We canoed, fished, learned to swim, and played with every creature we could find. My dad thought me that it’s okay to get muddy, explore, and really discover nature by getting my hands dirty.
When I was around 10 years old, and in the Girl Scouts, I learned about Rachel Carson and joined the NC Big Sweep beach cleanups as a volunteer. Rachel Carson is a well-known environmental hero and continues to inspire millions worldwide with the research she published in order to save coastal wildlife. I think what I learned most from her books and teachings is that no matter the struggle, everyone has a voice and to never give up on what you feel is right for the environment.
At around age 20 and during college, my environmental hero was my environmental biology professor, Dr. Gilbert Grant. A world-traveling environmental hero, who’s passion for birds and bats, taught me not only about the laws of ecology, but during some travels together I learned about ethnobotany, identifying plant species in the field, and also how documenting and recording data for publication plays a vital role in studying how our ecosystems are changing now and in the future and allows for others to share the same knowledge.
In my mid twenties, my environmental hero or heroes, I should say, were the very inspiring members of the Carolina Recycling Association, as mentioned during #WasteReductionWednesday s. These fine illustrious (as Tom Rhodes would say) colleagues inspired me to go full-tilt-boogy into the resource management world as a career and I have never looked back ever since. The knowledge gained by each member has shown me how not only to implement sustainable waste reduction programs in the community, but also to live the sustainable and waste free lifestyle – practicing what I teach.
In my early 30s, I had so many environmental heroes. Three of which stand out the most to me. My dear friend, Kristin Fountain, is a local environmental hero with strong coastal roots and has taught me to have no fear when it comes to protecting what you love (the marine environment). She left home during college to live in Cambodia for two years and volunteer for a Sea Horse Conservation program.
Kristin was very inspirational and quite possibly the single reason that I learned to scuba dive. Dr. Sylvia Earle, a well-known environmental hero, has also been a huge inspiration and has helped me, through her writings and documentaries, to find the words to teach others about how our fate and the ocean’s fate are one and the same.
Another hero of my mid thirties is Captain Charles Moore. He discovered the Pacific Garbage Patch by accident and he continues to study the area and educate others about it’s detrimental effects to us all. Someone who reminds me a lot of Captain Moore is my fav local environmental hero, Bonnie Monteleone of UNCW and the Plastic Ocean Project. She has been to every ocean gyre collecting plastic debris and studying things like chemical absorption and the effects plastics have on certain marine creatures. She also came up with one of the best ideas I have seen yet on how to teach folks about plastics in the ocean. She has a traveling art exhibit. Check it out here: www.plasticoceanproject.org
One of my most recent environmental heroes, past three years, is my dear friend Dr. Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia. She is a professor of environmental engineering and has studied solid waste infrastructure all over the world. She is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to how our impacts on land effect the quality of our oceans and has developed my fav app of all time, the #MarineDebrisTracker App. (free to download on your smart device). Check it out here: http://www.marinedebris.engr.uga.edu
I met Jenna while working to form the NC Marine Debris Symposium stakeholder group three years ago and she has been a key leader in our group ever since. I adore her not only for sharing her knowledge and inspiring me to learn more about plastics in the ocean, but also she, like all of my heroes, practices what she teaches and is a role model for all.
Most recently Jenna was part of the eXXpedition (http://exxpedition.com) Atlantic journeying at sea aboard a 72 foot sailing vessel studying plastics in the ocean and making her way with other women across the Atlantic for this research. She inspired me to submit an application to join the 2015 crew (eXXpedition Amazon). Now, officially part of the 2015 eXXpedition crew, I will be continuing her research and collecting samples and conducting studies both land-based and at sea for the month of Dec.
My most recent environmental heroes are Olivia (10) and Carter Ries (12) of One More Generation (http://onemoregeneration.org), a non-profit that they built because they see the need for youth involvement in shaping our future community environment around the world. Just like Rachel Carson, these young heroes are a voice for a generation to become inspired, take notice, and support. Their efforts are vast and impressive. From the preservation of our endangered wildlife and environmental conservation to youth empowerment and the list of projects and programs they are taking on keeps growing.
My husband, Wes Rider, is an environmental hero protecting the ocean with his pre-surf session beach cleanups. My sister, Drew, is a true waste reduction environmental hero and is a minimalist when it comes to consumer products. My friend, Beth Howard, and the art teacher at Dixon Elementary School is my hero for helping start up the school recycling program at her school and is a long-time volunteer at the local sea-turtle hospital.
My list of environmental heroes is always growing. It is important for all of us to seek out the inspiration of others. We are never so full of knowledge that we cannot learn from the experience of others, no matter their age, background, or where they live. We should all aspire to be environmental heroes if only just for the preservation of our own community environment, but to those that yearn to go above and beyond, I salute you today and everyday. You are all my environmental heroes. “…do your best, because we need you.” – Anonymous Interviewee during the documentary eXXpedition Atlantic
Blue skies and calm seas,
Happy Birthday National Ocean Policy
Happy Birthday to the National Ocean Policy (NOP)
Learn more here: Healthy Oceans Coalition / NOP Background
Want to do more for our marine environment locally? Please consider volunteering for the Plastic Ocean Project, Keep Onslow Beautiful, Project AWARE, or a local Surfrider Foundation chapter and also be sure to register for and attend the North Carolina Marine Debris Symposium
Don’t have time to officially volunteer for an org, but still want to be an environmental hero – clean your beach whenever you are there, pick up debris in a parking lot on your way to and from your car, or simply donate to help fund vital programs that help preserve our marine ecosystem.
Blue skies and calm seas,
Sharky Sunday out at the Caribsea
The wreck of the Caribsea has to be one of my favorite places to dive mostly due to the large community of sand tiger sharks. These magnificent creatures don’t mind sharing their home with a few divers and I adore spending time with them.
Sand tiger sharks will occasionally come to the surface and gulp air. I’ve mostly witnessed this while volunteering at the Pine Knoll Shores aquarium and it’s pretty cool. As it turns out, they store air in their stomachs and this plays a role in how they can float nearly motionless in the water while staying fairly close to the bottom. Divers would call this good buoyancy and others might just say it is a good trait since they appear to be very lazy. It might also be a pretty sneaky way to wait for prey.
The sand tiger shark is listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Specifies and is also a candidate species for the U.S. Endangered Species list. This is due to a couple of reasons, in some parts of the world, these sharks are in serious decline due to over-fishing, the shark fin industry, and commercial fishing methods, and also they have one of the lowest reproductive rates of all sharks (according to http://www.auduboninstitute.org), but here in North Carolina we have what seems to be a really strong population that is thriving.
Here is a short video of my dive this past SharkySunday:
Want to learn more about these super rad dudes in grey? I encourage you to take the PADI Project AWARE Shark Conservation class at Olympus Dive Center and then book a charter for some shark diving or head on out to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores for an up-close and personal (from behind the glass) view.