written by Allison W. Gryphon
What are the levels of key problematic industrial pollutants in our bodies? Do you wonder what you have been exposed to? What story can your body can tell about environmental exposure? Well we are going to find out. We are a team that includes ecotoxicologists, a games designer, an international policy maker, a technologist, activists, sailors, adventurers, filmmakers, digital media makers, bloggers, a psychotherapist, cancer care specialists, cancer survivors, and caregivers. – Dr. Lucy Gilliam
Having grown up traveling between parents, one on the east coast and one on the west, and both with sailing in their blood, it’s no surprise that I consider the ocean to be very much a part of who I am. Enjoying the water has been my treasure and working to protect it has been my passion. With my 2011 breast cancer diagnosis, my focus on keeping our ocean clean shifted to keeping my body clean and supporting other cancer fighters.
Now, three years later, I have been introduced to eXXpedition, a group of 14 women setting sail on the 72ft Sea Dragon for a twenty-one day journey. They leave port in Martinque on November 14th to explore their questions on the relationship between plastic, ocean garbage and the growing number of younger women in our world facing cancer. Inspired by knowledge, taken by the ocean and driven by the desire to understand, their mission took my breath away in an instant. What they are doing has the capacity to impact all of us. This is the first part in a series that will follow their journey.
Their fight. Their mission. Their words. Meet the team and the mission of eXXpedition.
AWG: What is eXXpedition?
DR. LUCY GILLIAM: 14 Women. 1 boat. The Atlantic ocean. And some big questions about the relationship between our health and our environment. We have assembled a complementary team of scientists, technologists, activists, artists and changemakers to sail together from Lanzarote to Martinique aboard science research vessel Sea Dragon. Along the way we will be sampling the ocean for plastic debris, surface feeding fish which will analysis for plastic fragments in the guts, and presence of toxics in the water column. Assessing in a variety of ways plastic and toxic chemical levels in our seas. We are also going to personally undergo ‘body burden’ analysis to assess the levels of toxic chemical contamination in our blood. A spot of ‘Me Search’ as I like to say. In the battles between experts with many saying there is a problem and many saying there isn’t. We want to know well, what about me?
The body burden analysis is being done according to the analytical protocols of a UN initiative called Safe Planet, a campaign supporting the UNEP Chemicals programme basically profiling key toxics indicators of pollutants controlled under Stockholm protocol.
As we sail we will be sharing our experiences and knowledge, creating a digital story to share with the world.
AWG: What do you hope to accomplish with the eXXpedition voyage?
DR. LUCY GILLIAM: We want to ask questions. Why is this plastic here? Where did it come from? Where does it go? What happens to wildlife if it is ingested? In what way is this plastic toxic? Where do the toxics come from? How does this pollution relate to me? Does it make me sick? Can we change this? Who can change this?
Our aim is to engage women in scientific narratives relating to the consumer choices they make, and their long-term health impacts on themselves and our environment. And to build awareness of global initiatives to phase out toxics.
AWG: What are the top five things you want people to know about what you’re doing?
DR. LUCY GILLIAM: We don’t have the answers. This is an exploration. We are posing some questions and going on a mission find some answers or maybe better questions. To me that is what science is about.
While the actual voyage is three weeks in November, the journey has already begun.
We are a crew of women who want this to be inspirational as well as informative. We would like to particularly like engage women in the 13-30 age bracket and get them engage in environmental narratives and becoming change agents themselves.
AWG: What are your long-term goals for the project?
DR. LUCY GILLIAM: We would like to turn eXXpedition into an annual sail, taking women on voyage to explore these issues. In terms of the outreach goals, we would love to see a movement where we dramatically reduce our single use plastic consumption and that our products are designed with seven generations in mind and the full life cycle mapped out. And that the language of ecotoxicology is far more widely understood so women can make informed choices themselves about what they expose themselves to.
Each woman brings a new dimension to the project theme, enabling diverse interactions and new stands of development. The team currently consists of 11 members with another 3 in the process of coming aboard. Our ages range is from 24 to 67 years of age, with nine different countries represented, delivering a good breath of life experience and outlooks.
MEET THE TEAM
Dr. Lucy Gilliam, scientist and sailor Lucy lost her father to cancer six years ago.
Emily Penn, skipper and cofounder of eXXpedition Emily is inspired by the cancer battle and actions of her friend Kris, diagnosed with cancer at the age of 23 and founder of the UK based cancer awareness non-profit CoppaFeel. Emily and her company Pangea Exploration have been involved in plastic sampling efforts for five years and are passionate about tackling plastic pollution.
Shanley McEntee, First Mate, Lives aboard the Sea Dragon year round. I’m excited to be involved in one of the most personal expeditions to date on Sea Dragon and to facilitate these exceptional women in their quest to challenge what we think we know about chemicals in our environment. Education brings change and these voices will be loud!.
Sierra Campbell, yogini, games designer, cancer survivor Exxpedition has opened me to a global community of women change-makers who are passionate about ocean health and women’s health. I have a dozen new friends, colleagues, and positive activists to collaborate with and raise awareness on safe, healthy consumer choices.
Caterina Falleni, technologist and designer I’m concerned of how hidden cocktail of chemicals, mostly generated by our life style, are concealed in our body and I’m interested in understanding the deep connection between health of the environment and of our bodies. I’m aligned with this mission because I believe I can make more aware choices in my daily design activity even with the big corporations clients I’m used to work with, to inspire a change in the way of designing, producing and delivering products and services generating a better cradle to cradle process.
Jen Pate, filmmaker and adventurer For me, eXXpedition is a completely unique opportunity to explore and improve our understanding of human-environment interaction while undertaking an incredible adventure with a team of empowering individuals. The project’s focus on environmental and human health, especially carcinogens and cancer, brings a very personal element to the trip for me due to the care and loss of many close family members in recent years. eXXpedition not only offers me a chance to adventure, film, explore and share means of disease prevention and environmental protection, but I also get to sail across an ocean. I mean, who doesn’t want to do that in their lifetime!?
Anne Baker, sailor and hobby scientist I have a niece, who is a teenage (female specific) cancer patient. Being part of a team trying to understand in more detail how environmental and specifically ocean toxins affect women’s health is a wonderful opportunity.
Laura Coleman, artist and curator There are many environmental questions at the moment with no answers. For me, eXXpedition represents a beacon of hope, launching the kind of conversations that are pertinent to every person on this planet.
Malin Jacob, activist and social media guru It recently dawned on me that all my grandparents have been affected by or died of cancer. At the same time, more and more young people of my age are also affected by this disease. That is terrifying. This expedition gives me a perfect opportunity to raise awareness around women’s health and environmentalism, while at the same time being the adventure of a lifetime. As an environmentalist I’ve seen many examples of the effect human waste and pollution have on the planet and us living there. When I saw a photograph of a dead albatross with its belly full of plastic, I realized that we must immediately help people understand what we do to the ecosystems of the world and the oceans.
Sue Weaver, psychotherapist and retired cancer care nurse I have been an activist, an environmental and women’s health campaigner all my life. Now I am a grandmother and no longer have to earn a day-to- day living. I am free to follow my love for earth and ocean. I live on 7 acres by the sea in Scotland where I spend a lot of time planting trees and picking up rubbish off the beach. I am simply delighted to have this opportunity to sail the deep seas and contribute to the science around toxic waste and our bodies.
Constança Belchoir, environment agency, marine litter data and analysis specialist I work on assessing the health and threats to Europe´s seas and on the implementation of really critical policies but, at the same time, all this sometimes feels like just words and numbers. I just came to a point where I needed to go back to my roots and be out there. To see and feel with my own senses and actually attach reality to the data and feelings we will be collecting.
The Why? Foundation has teamed up with team eXXpedition to raise funds and awareness with a UK screening series of our feature documentary What The F@#- is Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have it? in the coming months Click Here for dates and show times.
To learn more about eXXpedition, how you can follow their story, support then or join the team visit www.exxpedition.com .