Unseen women. Unseen pollution. Unseen disease. These are the critical issues that inspired Emily Penn, an oceans advocate, skipper and artist, and Lucy Gilliam, an Environmental Scientist, to co-found eXXpedition in 2014. This series of scientific research missions is focused on shining a giant spotlight on the impact plastics and other pollutants in the world’s oceans have on both the ecosystem and human health, with each voyage being piloted by an all-female crew. The current mission – Round Britain – has a team of 14 intrepid women, of varying ages, backgrounds and fields of expertise, circumnavigating the UK.

Emily and Lucy came up with the idea for eXXpedition in 2011 when they met at a lecture on the five major marine trash vortexes, which are filled with plastic pollution and contaminating the world’s oceans. They immediately got to work with plans to make the “unseen seen” and mapped out a three-tiered objective: 1. to assemble a crew of inspiring female role models and help address the diversity imbalance in both the STEM professions and exploration/sports events; 2. to better understand the links between the health of the environment and of our bodies based on the mounting evidence that environmental exposure from chemicals is impacting women’s health; 3. to highlight the fact women’s specific disease research has a low public profile in the media and there is an imbalance in research funding directed towards gender specific diseases (they note how “breast cancer rates in young women are on the rise.”)

In January 2014, Emily and Lucy put out a call inviting women to apply for the very first eXXpedition mission. An incredible mix of women applied and 14 set off across the Atlantic aboard the Sea Dragon, a 72ft (22m) steel hulled sailing vessel, in search of answers relating the health of our environment to the health of our bodies.

Since, there have been 7 other successful eXXpedition missions exploring the oceans in various parts of the world: the Caribbean (2017 and 2016), the Great Lakes, the Arctic, the Amazon, Ascension (South Atlantic), and Norway.

During each expedition, the women on board sample the ocean for plastics, microplastics, and other pollutants – chemicals, endocrine disruptors and carcinogens – that can potentially cause disease. They supply their samples to scientists and researchers around the world who are investigating the impact of toxic and plastic pollutants on the environment and all of us. Their aim is to “engage women in scientific narratives relating to the consumer choices they make, and their long-term health impacts.”

The Round Britain expedition launched on August 7th and will run through September 5th. It is comprised of 3 different legs overseen by different crews of women. Meet them…

round britain eXXpedition

Core Crew

Emily Penn – Co-Founder
Lucy Gilliam – Co-Founder
Sue Weaver – Mission Co-Leader, ecotherapist, activist
Anne Baker – Mission co-leader, seasoned sailor
Diana Papoulias – Science Advisor, aquatic toxicologist and fish biologist
Diane Reid – Skipper
Holly Vint – First Mate
Kat Law  – Deckhand
Ella (11) and Amy (13) Meek – eXXpedition Ambassadors

Leg 1: Plymouth, via Cardiff and Belfast, to Arran (near Glasgow)
August 7th – 17th

Tanya Ferry – Aquatic Ecologist
Deborah Maw – Biochemist & Environmental Artist
Megan Ross – Marine Biology Student
Vanessa Stephenson – Buyer
Hannah Thomas-Peter – Journalist
Gail Tudor – Videographer
Mani White – Project Manager & Yacht Master
Sarah Tanburn – Writer, Sailor & Environmentalist
Lynne Braham – Education Administration
Kim Ferran Holt – Marine Scientist and Advocate

Leg 2: Arran (near Glasgow), via Stornoway, to Edinburgh
August 17th – 26th

Melina Hoffman – Biochemist
Dr Jessica van Horssen – Historian / Writer
Deborah Maw – Biochemist & Environmental Artist
Bryony Meakins – Marine Conservationist
Tegan Mortimer – Marine Biologist / Science Educator
Katie Turnbull – Artist
Tracey Radnall – graphic designer, photographer and creative travel writer
Sarah Tanburn – Writer, Sailor & Environmentalist
Carol Devine – Humanitarian, researcher and writer

Leg 3: Edinburgh, via London, to Plymouth
August 26th – September 5th

Tanya Ferry – Aquatic Ecologist
Melissa Mayhew – Environmental Scientist
Deborah Maw – Biochemist & Environmental Artist
Deborah Stott – procurement specialist
Hannah Thomas-Peter – Journalist
Liane Fredericks – Sustainability Professional
Sarah Tanburn – Writer, Sailor & Environmentalist
Samantha Sutton – Finance Analyst & Selfridges Green Warrior

The Round Britain crew sent the above video to Channel 5 News, a UK-based broadcasting and media company, at the halfway point of Leg 1. As they continue along each leg of their route, they will be stopping at various ports to meet with policy-makers, lead workshops and lectures and will be hosting a number of other events.

What you should know About Emily And Lucy

Emily Penn – Co-Founder, eXXpedition

Emily is an oceans advocate, skipper and artist who has extensive exploration experience in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. She is a graduate of Cambridge University with a degree in Sustainable Architecture; and Director of global organisation Pangaea Explorations; and the first and youngest woman to be awarded the international Yachtmaster of the Year. Emily rounded the planet on the biofuelled Earthrace boat; spent 6 months living on a tiny Tongan island organising the largest ever community led rubbish clean-up; and discovered previously unknown oceanic gyres – huge areas of plastic pollution accumulation.

Lucy Gilliam – Co-Founder, eXXpedition

Lucy is an Environmental Scientist with a BSc (1st), in Biological Sciences and a PhD in Microbial Ecology; Soil Science. Lucy worked as a post-doctoral research scientist at Rothamsted Research before joining the UK Civil Service. Her portfolio of work consisted of advising on ecotoxicology including endocrine disruptors, nanotechnology, heavy metals, climate change, biodiversity and sustainable food production. Lucy is a Founder and Director of New Dawn Traders, a partnership of Artists, Scientists, and Chefs re-imagining global trade by sail power. Lucy has sailed all her life and represented Exeter University in British University Sailing Association championships as well as leading the University Club as Commodore in her final year of studies. She is an experienced Yacht racer and has crossed the Atlantic four times now.

Lead image credit: Holly Vint – First Mate, eXXpedition core crew – on IG