After meeting four years ago at Imperial College London, we became close friends and housemates. We soon discovered we had lots of common interests, including embarking on sailing trips to Greece and Croatia. This year we are pushing ourselves further, with an ambitious six week expedition in the Aegean Sea surveying for micro-plastics.
Plastic in our Oceans has been an issue gaining increasing media coverage in the past few years, and was highlighted by Sir David Attenborough in the popular BBC documentary Blue Planet. Given our love for the sea, this issue really resonated with us and we developed a real passion to apply our skills as STEM students to tackle it directly.
After deciding we wanted to undertake a sailing expedition to survey micro-plastics, we had two important questions: where to go and how how to fund it?
We attended the Royal Geographical Explore Event (take a look at this year's Explore event) held in October in South Kensington. The two day event consisted of other explorers and adventurers giving talks about their past trips as well as workshops for how to plan your own. We received valuable advice about funding streams, being realistic with our ambitions, and scientific collaborations.
The Mediterranean is now known to be one of the most heavily polluted regions of the world in terms of plastic debris. As these degrade, they produce micro-plastic particles (<5 mm in diameter) which can be ingested by marine wildlife, affecting the surrounding ecosystem and humans at the top of the food chain. A few surveys in the Northern and Western Med have been conducted in an attempt to understand the problem but larger sample sizes and more detailed datasets are required. We decided to use our expedition to survey the North-Eastern Mediterranean and contribute to global datasets such as the Global Estimate of Marine Plastic Pollution, as well as smaller university-based micro-plastic research projects.
We came to the decision to do a 6 week trip around Greece and Turkey.
We prepared a proposal for our trip for Imperial College Exploration Board. Adam, Iskren and Phil received funding from the board in the previous year for a cycling expedition through Romania. Using this experience to help our proposal, we prepared out submission and were invited to an interview with the board to discuss our plans and answer their questions. This went well, and with a few tweaks to our plans we were granted funding. The second avenue of funding came from the City and Guilds College Association (CGCA) which is a founding constituent college of Imperial College, covering all engineering subjects - Zoe and Adam are both members. We were granted funding from their Old Centralians' Trust for our expedition, after submitting a detailed budget and our proposal. Both funding was dependent on us producing a report at the end of our trip for publication on the Exploration Board page and the CGCA magazine 'Imperial ENGINEER'.
We were all set to start planning our trip!
Meet the Team
Zoe is the lead organizer and Treasurer for the trip. She has a MEng in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Imperial College. In her Final Year Project she created a surf fin that records ocean water quality and surfing maneuvers to a smart phone. She is a keen surfer, and loves any activity that involves being in the water.
Adam is the lead explorer on the expedition. He has a MEng in Mechanical Engineering from Imperial College, and his Final Year Project examined the degradation of plastics. Adam is an experienced kayaker, climber and runner and is happiest outdoors.
Phil has a MSci in Physics from Imperial College, and is the leader for the micro-plastics research. His MSc project and work as a physicist has been based in the field of climate science research. Phil is also qualified as a skipper and is an experienced trail runner and rock climber.
Iskren is the Captain for our trip. He has a BSc in Mathematics from Imperial College, a Yacht Master Offshore sailing qualification, and speaks three languages. Iskren has been sailing from a young age and is the most experienced member of the crew. He's also a Vegan.