After paddleboarding for years on the Great Lakes, Stefanie Spear hit the high seas a bit south of her familiar Erie waves. The founder of environmental news site EcoWatch sets sail in January as part of an all-women voyage hosted by eXXpedition that is studying the effects of plastic on the world’s oceans. We caught up with the Cleveland native to talk about what motivated her to join the trip and what she hoped to learn on her 1,000-nautical-mile voyage from Panama City, Panama, to the Galapagos Islands.
What kind of preparations did you do for the trip?
I go to the gym, so I’m in decent physical shape — I feel that I’m ready for the voyage. You didn’t have to have any sailing experience, even though we are considered crew. There are three women on board who are in control of the boat and will tell us what to do. So, I’m four hours on-deck every day, but I didn’t need any previous experience to be part of the expedition because they’ll teach us everything we need to know.
How do you conduct this research?
One [way] is surface water, and we have onboard Manta trawls (an advanced netting system) right on the surface of the water. As we’re sailing, it drags [through the water]. We pull that in to identify how much plastic is actually on the surface of the ocean. While you’re on the boat and you’re looking out at sea, there’s this beautiful body of blue water, but when you pull that Manta trawl in, there will be plastic.
What are you hoping to take away from this trip?
I think it will inspire me to make [banning] single-use plastics more of my core volunteer work. I’m an avid paddleboarder. I’m out on the water all the time, and I feel that the single-use plastic issue is one that I can engage in on a local, state and federal level as a citizen. The first-hand experience will inspire me even more to get involved.