“The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.” – Jacques Yves Cousteau, Oceanographer
In January, our team marked a new milestone in Sperry’s 80+ year history by partnering with ocean advocacy group Pangaea Exploration to address the growing problem of ocean plastic pollution.
Setting sail aboard the Sea Dragon, a 72 ft. sailing and research vessel, five Sperry ambassadors joined us on a three-day adventure as we sailed around the islands of Antigua to explore, learn, and make a difference in the battle to restore our waves and to fight pollution.
With a metaphorical mountain before us, our crew worked around the clock to trawl the waters and scavenge the shores in an effort to clean up the coastline.
Watch a video about our experience here, and scroll below to keep reading about our journey.
On a blustery Monday afternoon, our all-star team of creators, explorers, and adventurers left the docks of Falmouth Harbor and boarded Sea Dragon, thus beginning their expedition. Led by skipper, ocean advocate, and Pangaea co-founder Emily Penn, the curriculum was divided into three main sessions, which our Ambassadors participated in over the course of each day.
Sea Dragon is a 72ft. sailing and research vessel. The Pangaea crew circumnavigates the globe year round, measuring the volume of plastic pollution in the ocean, documenting their research, and exposing others to the work that needs to be done.
Session 1: The Plastic Pollution Problem
After learning about Pangaea’s work over the last six years – including how the organization got started; their initial focus on plastic pollution in the 5 gyres (rotating currents that collect debris); and their evolution toward studying other ocean issues – we dove into task at hand. Sitting around the galley tables, Emily broke down the ocean plastics problem in simple terms.
Plastic was designed as an indestructible material and its use skyrocketed in popularity in the late 20th Century due to low production costs and the inherent durability of the material. Emily Penn taught our crew that many plastic products are only used, on average, three times before they are discarded. This fatal and reckless misuse of plastic has created an immense amount of waste that has spilled into our oceans.
Examining existing research, we looked at ocean currents and samples and explored the material science and uses of plastic to understand the current state of the problem of plastics pollution.
Sea Dragon skipper Shanley McEntee teaches ambassador Megan Collante how to properly throw a trawl into the Caribbean water. Once in place, the trawl remains in the ocean for about 30 minutes, pulling debris in from the surface of the sea.
To truly digest how rampant and relevant the ocean plastics problem is, we were each taught how to trawl – a process by which a wide net is used to capture tiny bits of plastic from the surface of the ocean, allowing researchers to quantify the accumulation of plastics. Even in Antigua, which lies outside of any gyre, we found micro-beads and plastics.
It is a common misconception that ocean pollution begins on the water – like perhaps when a sailor litters or fails to properly dispose of a plastic bottle of soda or candy bar wrapper; yet this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Modern research suggests that roughly 80% of ocean plastic actually comes from items that are used and discarded of on land. Over time, plastic on land is swept up in the wind and makes its way to the water, where it floats out and becomes caught on shorelines or stuck in the habitats of sea creatures on the ocean floor.
Pangaea co-founder Emily Penn sifts through seaweed, uncovering dozens of microplastics that would otherwise be undetectable to the naked eye.
While trawling the Caribbean ocean, we docked near Green Island, where members of our crew departed from the Sea Dragon and hopped ashore to search the coastline for debris. There, we spent two hours surveying a ½-mile stretch of seemingly pristine beach and picking up pollutants that had washed up and into the brush. To everyone’s surprise and dismay, we filled more than 20 oversized trash bags with debris, rope, and – get this – 250 plastic water bottles. If the goal of the first session was to be immersed in the problem, the seed was certainly planted; everyone felt acutely tuned into this important cause.
Session 2: Discussing Solutions
Armed with firsthand knowledge of just how palpable ocean plastics pollution is, our team spent the second morning gathered around a large solon table, writing down every possible solution they could muster for solving the problem. Potential solutions ranged from how to clean up the ocean and remove existing trash to how we might be able to look to policy to staunch the issue at the source.
Solutions come in many forms. During this session, we explored various opportunities to reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans, from physically removing existing ocean plastics to addressing the issue at the source.
The goal of this session was to begin brainstorming how to address this global problem, to identify pros and cons, and to weigh all of our options. The road ahead felt long and tedious, but then Sam provided sage perspective. Sitting in the galley, surrounded by Post-It notes, he reminded us that, “By making small steps forward, the world moves forward.”
Session 3: Looking Ahead
On our final day, our crew met as a group to explore what the team could do to continue their work – ways to hold one another accountable while putting plans into measurable action to protect the coastlines in their own communities.
On the final morning, ambassador Sam Potter spends time writing down his thoughts from the previous three days at sea.
Back on land, we were left with the memories of a remarkable and informative experience. Ambassador Amanda Goad articulated it best, when reflecting upon her experience on Instagram just a few days later:
“Try to think about your plastic consumption today,” Goad notes. “What could you reduce using? Maybe take a count of all the plastic items you use for just 1-10 minutes today. You may be surprised how high your number becomes. Let’s all try to use a little less, a little more often.”
As we continue to search for ways to work together we must find ways to use our individual talents to better our big blue planet. How will you lend a hand in solving the problem of ocean plastics pollution?
Our five ambassadors: nomadic adventurers Nash + Kim Finley; Wild Women’s Project founder Amanda Goad; creator and model Megan Collante; and Hawaiian-born surfer and photographer Sam Potter.
Learn more about our partnership with Pangaea here.