There is no part of the world left untouched by the debris floating in our oceans, one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world’s waterways.
While most visualize this issue in terms of six-pack rings and misplaced nets, a much smaller culprit is emerging as a danger to our oceans – microplastics.
And Kristen Weiss is setting sail to explain why.
This November, Ms. Weiss, a Santa Barbara-based marine ecologist and science communicator, will participate in eXXpedition’s Round the World Voyage, an all-female sailing trip devoted to researching ocean plastic. Chosen from among 1,000 applicants, Ms. Weiss will join leg three of the two-year project.
“I love the idea of an adventure, and eXXpedition is just that,” said Ms. Weiss. “I loved that their idea to promote women in sailing, promote women in science, and look at the effects of plastic pollution.”
As a science communicator, Ms. Weiss translates science for nonscientists. Two years ago, Ms. Weiss moved to Santa Barbara to work at an ecological research center affiliated with UCSB. There, she helps make research accessible, so students, policymakers and scientists alike understand how ecosystems function over time.
“In undergrad, I gained experience in marine science, and then I fell in love with ocean conservation,” said Ms. Weiss. “eXXpedition sounded like this perfect combination of the things I’ve done and the things I’m interested in.”
Founded in 2014, eXXpedition works to shift the way people think and use plastic. To do so, the nonprofit organization has looked at the impact of microplastics. Smaller than a sesame seed, these tiny particles come from a variety of sources, including larger plastic debris that break apart, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Microplastics easily pass through water filtration systems, ending up in the ocean. Each year, eXXpedition runs all-female research trips to discover how these different types of plastic impact aquatic life, and their newest voyage is the largest yet.
Starting early last week, the 30-leg trip will take a crew of 300 women across 38,000 nautical miles in just two years. While on board, crew members will be collecting water samples looking at different plastic in the ocean, as well as brainstorming ways to share their findings.
“Round the World is bringing science and research to the next level,” said Ms. Weiss. “Together, we’re scaling up the impact we make on pollution.”
After the trip, every crew member is encouraged to start change within their own communities. Ms. Weiss believes the voyage can personalize her research.
“I’ve been working on a book project that challenges us to change our behavior,” said Ms. Weiss. “This could mean using less plastic or eating more plant-based foods, the things that people know are better for the planet but are hard to convince themselves to do.”
This experience will allow Ms. Weiss to personally see the impact of her choices. “I want to connect with people and tell my story,” she said. “Maybe that can help us change individually and influence businesses or policies.”
Apart from her own research, Ms. Weiss is looking forward to learning from the other women on the voyage.
“I’ve read their bios, and they all seem like they’ve done amazing things,” she said. “I can’t wait to make some really great connects and grown as a scientist.”
Ms. Weiss hopes to bring this knowledge back to Santa Barbara, helping her reach larger audiences. In addition to writing articles and blog posts about her journey, Ms. Weiss wants to speak with the local community.
“There’s a really great group of scientists and environmentally-minded people in Santa Barbara,” said Ms. Weiss.
For her, there’s no better place to spread her message.
“Santa Barbara has been at the forefront of the environmental movement for decades, but it’s also been the location of a lot of environmental problems,” said Ms. Weiss. “It’s a community that’s willing to make changes and address the problems, and I hope I can help with that.”