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February 27, 2020

Rachael Walshe tells us about the journey that led her to be accepted onto eXXpedition — an all-women voyage to help clean up plastic in the ocean

I was raised in rural Australia, where our reliance on a healthy environment, clean waterways and understanding of natural processes was a necessity to thrive. In the Australian bush, life is spent outdoors and under the sun, much like the coast — except that you can't escape the flies, your dam is your swimming hole and you’re usually covered in some form of dirt.

Fast forward a decade and a change of scenery, I found myself on the Sunshine Coast, where everything I learnt as a child had come full circle. My upbringing in the pristine Australian bush had pushed me towards a degree in Environmental Management at the University of the Sunshine Coast. I quickly realised that not all people were as lucky as I had been, and that for the children of today and tomorrow, seeing litter is an accepted part of daily life. It dawned on me that living a low-to-zero waste lifestyle was the only logical way for me to live. After many attempts and multiple fails, I could genuinely say I really was doing all I could to reduce plastic consumption.  

Or was I? I was living a specific lifestyle, but I wasn’t that doing much for the broader community. So, using my network at university I began hosting fundraising events aimed at preventing plastic pollution, organising and participating in beach clean-ups and looking into what I could do in the citizen science realm. That's when I found eXXpedition's all-women, round the world voyage looking at plastic pollution and community outreach.

eXXpedition Round the World is an all-women sailing voyage and research mission that covers over 38,000 nautical miles and 30 voyage legs starting and ending in the United Kingdom. After a lengthy interview and selection process I was finally in and part of what we call a 'sea-sterhood’. The sea-sterhood is really out there, researching plastic pollution in our oceans (where all plastic ultimately ends up) and raising awareness as we go. Onboard S.V. TravelEdge, eXXpedition crews will explore plastics and toxics in our ocean, via four of the five oceanic gyres and the Arctic. 

Connected by a passion for protecting our shared ocean, it is enabling 300 women to experience and witness the effects of what plastic is really doing to our beloved earth and participate in science missions that are supporting broader research projects. eXXpedition is about community, creating a cleaner future for tomorrow and embracing the abilities of women all over the world! 

After I’d been accepted it hit me that I would be out on the high seas for ten days, sailing from Vanuatu to Cairns, under the harsh sun that us Australians know all too well. I've used eco-friendly, tinned zincs for a while now while but had yet to find a sunscreen that could cover me head to toe and ticked all the boxes. Some are reef-safe, some are zero waste and eco-friendly, some feel like butter on the skin… but few are all three. That's when I found and then reached out to SunButter, an Australian company whose product ticked every box; it even ticked my box of using local Australian products. I take the threat of sun safety quite seriously, and I have always found myself compromising in the sunscreen department, mostly due to the plastic waste it created. Knowing that I can go on this epic adventure using products that align so well with both my own and eXXpedition’s values is a huge win for me.

I love the water and anything that gets me close to it really brings me home. Still, I've never been sailing, and I will be one of the few people on eXXpedition that hasn’t been at sea for more than a night or two. After all, I grew up 500 kilometres from the ocean. This is all entirely new to me and I will admit, it makes me incredibly nervous. Stepping outside my comfort zone here with the world watching is daunting, but having a community who is so supportive gives me the determination to embrace any challenge this adventure throws at me. I can't wait to depart Port Vila on June 5 with eXXpedition, and I am even more excited to be entering Australian waters with the team. I think what excites me most is that I'm doing justice to my younger self and her dream of ensuring that other children get to experience the environment in the way most of us did: clean and plastic-free.

I'll check in once I am back, until then, you can follow the journey on eXXpedition’s social media, or you can help my journey financially here. Regardless, your well wishes for what I am sure will be an exciting, educational, fulfilling and probably challenging time are most definitely accepted! 

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