In this post, Tomáš Brázdil a Máří M. Halatová, who by sailing around the Spitsbergen try to warn against climate change and plastic in the ocean, introduce themselves. This year they set out for a unique and difficult expedition.
Why an expedition to the Spitsbergen
For 10 years we have sailed the sea and ocean. During the voyages, we have always tried to show the crew how to enjoy their travels in a more environmentally-friendly way to protect nature and lead them to reflect on how they can change their behaviour in that direction. During that time, however, we also had the opportunity to monitor the growth of contamination of these seas. Although we tried to bring back garbage, which we found along the way by sea, to the harbour recycling centre, it was Sisyphus’ work. One with a good feeling brings one full garbage bag on the mainland, but in a few days, one lands on a supposedly deserted island and finds a beach turned into a dump. That is when we realized that one trash bag is nothing compared to changing one’s mind… Even if we can change the approach of only one person, and I fit for his whole life it worth it! We realized that the current situation calls for a change in the social mindset towards Sustainable lifestyle.
That is why we decided to try to do something like that on a larger scale. By organizing an Expedition to the Arctic to reach Svalbard and measure the concentration of micro-plastics in the sea all the time (and highlight the dangers arising with pollution). With the primary aim of promoting low environmental footprints of travelling and a way of living “Sustainable lifestyle”.
What is needed for success?
This year and also last year, we invested most of our own money in the technical improvement of the ship to be able to sail in the Arctic regions and withstand the extreme conditions. But it was also necessary to focus on security!
We made a relatively high investment in compulsory rescue insurance, without which we would not be allowed to go to the Spitsbergen. Moreover, we needed to buy a special rescue buoy, lifejackets and a special lifeboat to the polar regions, and other smaller equipment like a solar panel or small weather station. These bigger or smaller things, however, piled up to more than 240,000 CZK which is even with the help of closest ones beyond our possibilities. That is why we had to carry out a crowdfunding campaign.
Expedition and its stages
Ready, steady, go …
The first stage of the Expedition began in 2017 when we took all the life savings and bought a ship. She is docked in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the homeport of our Expedition ship called “Midnight Blue” is.
… And two years later
From there, on May 10th, during the 2000 km cruise, we are moving the Baltic, North and Norwegian seas (we are going to leave Bergen as soon as I write this article) to the 70° of north latitude, to Tromsø.
Here, the rest of the Expedition crew joins, leaving the safety of the coast and set sail for several days of continuous navigation through the Arctic Ocean to Svalbard. Then we will pass the west coast of Svalbard to Longyearbyen. Here, buy some supplies, update forecasts, and if the state of ice fields on the east side of the archipelago and weather forecast allows, we will try to sail around the entire archipelago of West Svalbard.
Besides rapid disappearing in permafrost in the Arctic due to climate change, we would like to use the publicity of the Expedition (people just like all sorts of Bests and records) to draw attention to the core of the Expedition – promoting Sustainability and lowering pollution.
This will collect the measurements of the microplastic concentration in the local seawater and the need to reflect it on the current use of plastics. Microplastics are small particles caused by mechanical erosion, saltwater erosion and UV radiation erosion from larger plastics pieces. The plastics are very resilient and (depending on the type of plastic) also not fully degradable. The decomposition time for some types is in hundreds of years. However, they do not remain whole but erode into smaller and smaller particles. Often up to several micrometres. As such, they enter the entire food chain of marine animals. And through fisheries, they also affect humans. While large pieces of plastic can be detected very easily and are often thrown to shore, where they can be picked up, it is worse with microplastics. Due to their small size and lightness, they are easily transported by the currents of the sea and can be practically everywhere. Also, the Spitsbergen ends the Gulf Stream, which flows on its route from the US shores around Europe and everything that pulls it along the way will be brought right here. Including microplastics.
The second part is to try whether it is possible to make this trip with the lowest possible environmental footprint, so we will try to sail (wind), charge through the solar panel and avoid usage of chemical detergents. We will turn this knowledge into a Handbook on how to travel sustainably.
By doing so, we want to show that our (also yours) behaviour in our homes thousands of miles away affects such a pristine Island. (Did you know, for example, that the average use time of a microtine bag in which you bring home for example rolls is only 12 minutes and then ends up in the trash?)
But at the same time, we want to offer a way how also you can improve it 🙂