Launch of the “Race for Water Odyssey” expedition, a race against time to protect oceans from plastic pollution

081011 - 6/8 OCT 2011 KRYS MATCH MOD70 DAY 3

Initiated by the Race for Water Foundation based in Lausanne, Switzerland, the “Race for Water Odyssey” (R4WO) will begin in Bordeaux (France) on March 15, 2015. The objective of this unique expedition is to conduct the first global assessment of plastic pollution in oceans by visiting island beaches situated in the 5 trash vortexes using advanced technology including senseFly drones.

It is estimated that over 260 billion tons of plastic are currently polluting the oceans. This waste accumulates inside immense whirlpools of water created by marine currents; gigantic heaps of debris called trash “gyres” or “vortexes”. There are five gyres in existence today, but only one—the North Pacific Gyre—is being actively studied.

Starting out from Bordeaux, the R4WO aspires to reach the five gyres to study the accumulating waste in these remote places. While studies have already been conducted in isolation on certain vortexes, this unprecedented expedition will collect and analyse systematic and comparable data on all five of the planet’s gyres for the first time.

For nearly 300 days, the high-performance “MOD70 Race for Water” trimaran and her crew will study island beaches located in these vortexes. On each of them, the scientific teams will follow a standardized method for studying microplastics based on an approach used by the NOAA (the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The R4WO will be able to count on the expertise of prestigious institutions such as Duke University and Oregon State University, as well as the marine section of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).

Lastly, innovative drone company senseFly, producers of aerial imaging drones for professional applications, has donated eBee drones to capture high-resolution aerial photos of plastic debris, with a view to advancing scientific research in this domain.

Andrea Halter, co-founder and head of marketing & sales at senseFly, said, “At senseFly we’re a team of young, passionate people, and we feel it’s part of our generation’s responsibility to raise awareness of this issue and tackle it head on. With the Race for Water team, we share a common passion: pushing the limits of what’s possible and as such we are truly excited to participate with our eBee’s in the Odyssey.”

In parallel, the teams will be meeting with local populations in order to gather information about their solutions for mitigating plastic pollution on their coastlines. Sailors, fishermen, authorities, local NGOs and the testimonies of all the local stakeholders will be taken into account.

A crew in service of oceans

Marco Simeoni, chairman of the Race for Water Foundation and brilliant Swiss entrepreneur, is devoting himself entirely to the expedition from this point forward: 

“Water, and its preservation, is a topic that has been dear to my heart for many years. After creating the Race for Water Foundation, I told myself that it was absolutely necessary to take action against the disaster of plastic pollution in our oceans. To be capable of devising solutions, I first needed to fully understand the problem. From this arose the ‘R4WO’. I decided to participate in the mission and go aboard the boat to assess the extent of damage for myself. The objective of this exceptional mission is to study the 5 vortexes of plastic in order to find appropriate solutions.”

Completely committed, the foundation’s chairman will spend nine months aboard the trimaran alongside five other crew members, notably including Stève Ravussin, famous Swiss sailor. This previous winner of the Route du Rhum, boat skipper, is entirely devoted to the cause of the R4WO:

Every year, over 25 million tons of plastic waste end up in the sea. We must act as quickly as possible to preserve the planet’s most important ecosystem. As I have observed during my career, no coastline is safe from this pollution; it really is time to do something. It is natural for me to use my seafaring skills in service of the sea—this vital resource that is truly endangered today.”

A media crew will also be joining the R4WO, allowing a greater number of people to follow the adventure right from the start in Bordeaux, with exciting live reports from aboard the ship and during stopovers.

R4WO: a spotlight on marine pollution and the crucial stakes

In parallel, the objective of the trip around the world is to educate industries, legislators, and the general public, by raising awareness of the crucial issues of ocean preservation. Firstly, the speed of the ambassador boat symbolically embodies the urgency of the situation. Then, in a more tangible way with conferences (the first at the UN headquarters in New York), pedagogical activities, and workshops during the stopovers which will punctuate the trip around the world: New York, Hawaii, Valparaiso, Tokyo, Shanghai, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, etc. The expedition is actively working to unite a community of “Water Guardians” made up of prominent figures working actively for the cause.

The R4WO constitutes the first part of a vast project of identifying needs and developing solutions to preserve the planet’s water. As a second step, sustainable solutions for collecting floating waste in oceans will be introduced—still in collaboration with local populations and with various foundation partners. Developing viable waste valorisation techniques is the main objective of this second phase.