British Columbia

All-women crew returns from North Pacific's plastic zone with seawater samples

The 14 women aboard the Sea Dragon spent three weeks collecting seawater samples that will be analyzed by the labs at Ocean Wise.

14 women spent 3 weeks on Hawaii-Vancouver collecting samples that will be analyzed by Ocean Wise labs

Emily Penn led the all-female crew aboard the Sea Dragon. (CBC)

An all-female crew of sailors that spent three weeks at sea handed over water samples to researchers with the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise program on Saturday. 

The North Pacific voyage was led by sailor Emily Penn, who hopes to bring attention to the issue of microplastics in the oceans. 

"The problem is getting worse," Penn said during an interview at Vancouver's False Creek Marina. 

"We know that more and more plastic is building in the middle of these accumulation zones and it's really getting to the critical point that we need to do something about it."

The crew of 14 women sailed from Hawaii to Vancouver, through a dense ocean plastic accumulation zone in the North Pacific. 

Peter Ross, vice-president of research for Ocean Wise, said the collected seawater samples will be valuable to his team's research. 

"What we hope to do is build on our understanding of the fate and distribution of microplastic particles in the open Pacific Ocean, with an eye to really trying to characterize the source," Ross said Saturday. 

In one sample, contained in a small jar, Penn said her team counted 507 fragments of plastic. 

In addition to the barely visible particles, Penn said the crew routinely saw toothbrushes, lighters, and plastic bottles floating by the side of the boat. 

The voyage was the 10th all-women sailing trip led by Exxpedition, a group that examines ocean pollution and aims to engage women in environmental and ocean science. 

Penn said the women on the most recent voyage came from all over the world, with professions including scientist, journalist, filmmaker, and designer. 

"For a lot of them it was their first time out at sea, their first time crossing an ocean," Penn said. 

Read more from CBC British Columbia 

With files from Zahra Premji