Ever since she was a child, Margo Hughes, an Associate Scientist at The
Next year, Margo will be joining a handful of women on a weeklong journey, sailing between Tahiti and the Cook Islands, to make the unseen seen: plastic pollution in our oceans.
It’s all thanks to the trailblazing eXXpedition project; all-women sailing voyages that focus on the devastating impact of single-use plastic and other toxicants on the environment and our health.
For Margo, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. She’ll not only get to see the effects of plastic pollution first-hand, but also bring her unique skill set and passion onboard to help further the incredible work being accomplished through the project, all while fulfilling her childhood dreams.
Testing the waters
Growing up in the Great Lakes region in Chicago, Margo was drawn to sailing from a young age. As she recalls: “When I was about three years old, I turned my toy box into a boat and pretended I was sailing.”
As a teenager, Margo spent the summer as a student intern at Chicago’s Jardine Central Purification Plant. One of her favourite memories was taking a boat out to “collect different samples from the shore [and] from the intake cribs.” It was during this time that she learnt about all aspects of the sampling process.
And she’s continued to work in labs, testing the quality of Flavours and Fragrances, ever since. “It’s a fascinating field,” says Margo, “you’re constantly working with natural products so there’s always variety.”
It seems serendipitous, then, that she’ll soon be embarking on a sailing trip to – quite literally – test the waters of the world’s oceans with eXXpedition.
“We will actually be netting – there’s a huge net that’s dragged along the surface of the water that collects whatever we find,” explains Margo, adding that the crew (10 women are chosen for each leg) will then base their scientific measurements from the samples collected.
A scientific eXXpedition
More than 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year. A threat to our environment, plastic pollution is part of the global climate crisis hiding in plain sight. With levels of toxic pollution rising, it’s clear that more needs to be done to tackle this very pressing issue, even if Margo believes the problem isn’t fully understood:
“A lot of people think that if you look on Google Earth, you’re going to see this island [of plastic] in the ocean, but it’s not like that,” says Margo. “A lot of the pollutants and toxins that are being dealt with are actually at the micro level.”
Women such as Margo, who stumbled upon the project on social media. “I belong to a female sailing page on Facebook; I happened to be perusing through some of the posts of the page, and I noticed that they were looking for applicants.”
She quite literally ticked all the boxes: “The gist of the post was that they were looking for women, specifically, and they kind of wanted a multi-disciplinary group, but there was an emphasis on scientists as it was a scientific study. And if you had a bit of sailing experience that would also be nice.”
Suffice to say, Margo didn’t need much convincing: “I decided right away I would definitely give it a go.”
A World Without Waste
“We currently have our World Without Waste programme, for instance, and we have some clear-cut goals for 2030 regarding our use of recycling plastics. They’re ambitious, but I think the ongoing studies regarding our packaging are showing that, as an industry, we’re very much involved in being part of the solution.”
Small steps make a world of difference
Back at work, and in her day-to-day life, Margo has been implementing small changes to reduce single-use plastics. She says eXXpedition has inspired her to take more initiative: “As I got involved in this project I started to research, more and more, the things that we as individuals can do.”
From reusing shopping bags to requesting that supermarkets change their practices (“a lot of our local supermarkets actually have made ambitious goals to do so”), Margo is actively championing eXXpedition’s aim to inform consumers about everyday choices.
With a few months to go until she officially sets sail, Margo says preparations for a week at sea have been relatively low-key. Of course, as a keen sailor who already has several qualifications under her belt (including Competent Crew, Survival at Sea and Ship’s Radio License), she’s no stranger to life at sea.
Having just completed her Day Skipper qualification, Margo says she’s looking forward to “being involved in the project and publicising its focus – alongside
“And certainly, I would want to think that this will help shed some light on what we’re up against: what is actually out there and how bad is the problem? That’s what I’m looking forward to discovering.”
We can’t wait to hear all about Margo’s voyage. Stay tuned for more.