Jessica Newley (Sailor, Environmental Educator, UW Photographer) onboard S/V Silent Sun, a 37 foot sailboat, last month during her 34 day passage from Mexico to the Marquesas islands in French Polynesia. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Newley)

By Jessica Newley
ASC Microplastics Adventurer

As my husband and I were preparing to set sail across the Pacific Ocean this spring, I decided to look for ways to get involved in scientific research during our sail. I knew we were headed into remote, uncharted territories where data could certainly be of use. As a result, I was stoked to find ASC and to have the opportunity to be a part of its microplastics project. If we were already sailing to a far-flung place, I wanted to be a part of the larger picture and help tackle important issues like microplastics in the ocean at the same time.

Before we got our sailboat, Silent Sun, I spent a season working as a science educator onboard a 64-foot sailing vessel for Deep Green Wilderness in the Salish Sea. I led high school students through their own science research projects, involving lots of water collections and data analysis at sea. I learned through this job that when working on the ocean, particularly on sailboats, you’re limited by the conditions around you. This means basically everything—weather, the boat, the point of sail, the waves, the swell, the wind direction, speed, traffic, land masses—affects you and your actions. 

I quickly recalled this fact once we set sail on Silent Sun and began my water collection for ASC. When ASC Partnerships Coordinator Alex Hamilton mentioned it would be best not to use a bucket to gather the sample water, I assumed I would figure out another way no problem. 

Learn more about the ASC Microplastics Project on our website, the Field Notes blog, and by following us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Google+

PictureThis sample was taken as they passed the equator going 7 knots!

Once we were out there, however, I realized my options were pretty limited—I wasn’t going to be able to jump in (not safe when sailing, and heaving-to was not an option), towing a rope and holding on was out of the question, I had no resources or time to create a non-plastic device to throw overboard and collect water for me… 

I was pretty much left with one option: attach myself to the boat, wait until we were heeled over enough to reach the water level and dip in for dear life. Ok, maybe it wasn’t that extreme, but sometimes while going seven knots, it felt like it!

I’m excited to see the results from my samples—I felt like each collection I did was different from the last: one in the mouth of a very busy watershed, during a red tide, one after we saw the most trash traffic during the transit (a shoe, a plastic crate, etc.), one at the equator and one further away from any land mass I’ll ever be! 

Overall, it was a really great experience. It made my days more interesting onboard Silent Sun, and I felt good about being able to gather scientific data while at sea, particularly in very hard-to-reach places. I look forward to continue collecting water samples along my adventure throughout the South Pacific.