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Ocean Ambassador Jana Leberl

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Today we introduce you to Jana Leberl, a doctor from Germany, who seeks to understand the consequences of environmental pollution for the health of human beings. Last year she got invited to go on an all-woman sailing voyage with eXXpedition to collect data on the plastic pollution of our oceancs. To share her insights from their trip she wrote a report for us, which we are happy to publish and share with you.

eXXpedition is a British NGO that aims to understand the plastic pollution of the ocean and effectuate changes on a global level. In cooperation with universities, they undertake scientific studies to investigate the problem first hand. The data is collected by women from all over the globe during a sailing voyage through the worlds biggest garbage islands, along specifically affected coasts and all the way up to the Arctic. These women are all connected in an international network of ocean ambassadors to support each other bringing upon change in their respective communities.

 

 

This is Janas report about the all woman-voyage in December 2019

„Our voyage started on Aruba. After we all got to know each other and set up everything on board, we started to collected data for one of our studies straight away. For this project we counted and categorized litter items on land to understand where the plastic pieces come from and what ways they take into in the oceans. We split up in small teams and spread in Oranjenstadt, the capital of Aruba, to capture the different types of plastic waste at different locations.

In the afternoon we visited the first up-cycling center of Aruba. The island residents get increasingly aware of the drastic pollution problem. Because the island is not really farmable,everything is imported - packed in plastic. The landfill that was set up 50 years ago rises over the edge, so there is a big need for alternatives, like the up-cycling center.

 

 

Unfortunately, we werent invited to have a look at the condition of this landfill. But as we sailed down the coast the next morning, we passed the huge trash pile, as it was right next to the sea. Half of it was on fire, with pieces falling into the ocean. Only a few minutes later we were greetd by a group of dolphins. 

 

 

The following days, as we were sailing in the direction of Panama, we split up into small groups. Every four hours we switched between sailing, cooking and sleeping. In the afternoon we slowed down the boat to collect data for our studies. One of it focused on micro plastic in the surface water. This examination actually was already done by a few other explorers. What makes our examination unique is that we circumnavigate the globe, always using the same method. That makes the data really valuable.

To collect the plastic waste we used a so-called Manta-Trawl, which is basically a net in the shape of a Manta ray. We left it in the water for 20 minutes before pulling it back onboard to collect all the plastic particles in a lengthy filtering process. 

Until the data is published I cannot make any official statements, but from our onboard experience we can already say, we fished plastic particles out of the surfacewater, every single day from Plymouth to Panama.
What is shocking about this is, that it is assumed that only 0,5 % of the plastic waste floats on the surface, the rest of it probably swims in deeper water layers or sits on the seabed.

After a few days of not seeing any land we arrived in the San Blas, an archipelago of more than 350 small islands that are covered with coconut palm trees and inhabited by the Kuna Yala, one of the last indigenous tribes of the region.

 

 

In order to ask for allowance to collect samples from their waters and seabeds, we met with their council of elders. After some considerations and discussions about the issue, we were allowed to continue with our research. While anchoring there, we also took the opportunity to learn about the locals persepctive of the issue. The goal of eXXpedition is not only to publish studies, but also to share our findings with the affected communities directly to help them find solutions.

The amount of plastic we saw was overwhelming. In the villages of Kuna Yala, the ground was covered with plastic shreds and cans. According to the village teacher, families regularly burn the plastic in front of their homes. In this process highly toxic and potentially carcinogenic substances can be released.

  

 

Even on uninhabited islands the beaches were covered with plastic articles. Our plan to do a Beach Clean Up on one specificaly affected island, was discarded quite quickly when we realized that we would never be able to transport all the plastic to Panama on our boat. Instead we decided to just clean  a 10 meter section and count the amount of typical items that could be found on a 100 meter stretch. I decided to only look for Croc type plastic shoes for example and found 50 of them in haf an hour. We also collected countless plastic bottles, lighters, deodorants and milk cartons.

When we arrived in Panama a few days later we gave a talk about our trip to sailors, local politicians and science partners. That evening I learned from Panamas' former Minister of the Environment that the Kuna Yala will be resettled from their islands to Panama in 2020, as their islands are being flooded by the rising sea level.

This small nation, which was one of the few that defied the Spanish conquerors, had survived countless pirate raids and preserved its land and culture, is today not only suffering from cocaine trade and a huge flood of plastic trash, but is also losing its home due to the effects of climate change.

 

MYMARINI really appreciates the work these women are doing- caring for our oceans and we of course we give a special thanks to Jana for writing the report and sharing her impressions with us.