An explorer, researcher and experienced sailor, Emily Penn lives her life between land and sea. As a speaker and activist her passion to protect the seas led her to form the all female eXXpedition crew, a project studying the effects of microplastic pollution on our oceans.
We've worked with Emily for some time, but we're proud to finally welcome her to the team officially as our newest Finisterre Ambassador. Below we caught up with her to talk life in lockdown, keeping sane without the sea, and the launch of the SHiFT platform, to help people navigate everyday solutions to the challenges posed by microplastics.
With eXXpedition safe in Harbour, what has the past few months been like for you?
It's been challenging for sure! Lockdown kicked in when we were two weeks from land, researching plastic pollution in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so it was a bit of a race to make it into Tahiti to navigate closed borders in time for the last flight home. Since getting back there have been lots of logistics to reorganise as we've had to put a 12 month pause on eXXpedition Round The World and resume the circumnavigation next year.
But we've been making the most of unexpected time on land. In June we launched the SHiFT Platform - a digital tool to help people navigate the hundreds of solutions to tackle ocean plastic pollution - which has been really exciting!
You're never in the same place for too long, so how have you managed to sit still whilst in Basecamp and what have you found to occupy your time?
This is definitely the longest time I've been in the UK for over a decade! I'm very used to life at sea and travelling to events for speeches, working with companies and governments, in between.
Life at home in our London flat is a real contrast. During the first month my house plant obsession got pretty out of control. But since restrictions have eased, my husband Tom and I have kept sane by heading down to the south coast for sailing trips in the family Cornish Shrimper. We get out on the water for a day in Chichester Harbour, find a remote patch of sand to haul up on, and enjoy being connected to the elements. The weather's been so glorious it's felt like the Caribbean!
With the mammoth task at hand, and an all-female crew of ocean activists in waiting, what does the future look like for eXXpedition and how can people get involved?
There's a lot of uncertainty at the moment about global travel and social distancing, so we don't know for sure when we will get back out to Tahiti to continue on the next 18 months of voyages to complete the project. Hopefully it will be April 2021. You can still apply to join one of the later legs to sail and research plastic pollution in the Indian Ocean, Atlantic and Arctic. All the details are on our website here. In the meantime there is plenty of impact to be made!
The more time I spend at sea, the more I realise the solutions start on land. Throughout the Autumn and Winter we will be building on the launch of SHiFT for a Year of Virtual Impact, maximising the potential of our amazing global network of ambassadors and scaling up the opportunities to create change. Tackling plastic pollution begins on our doorstep - rethinking our use of single use plastic, innovating new products and creating new systems - so there's lots to be getting on with.
With the successful launch of SHiFT (a project long in the making), how has it been received and what are your next steps for the platform?
Absolutely. I've been using the SHiFT Method for years on board expeditions and in workshops with businesses, but only now have we been able to do this at scale by taking it online. The feedback has been incredible! And we're so excited to have so many amazing solutions featured, including Finisterre's wetsuit recycling initiative. The platform itself celebrates that while there is no silver bullet solution to solving the plastics issue, there are in fact hundreds of things we can do.
Sometimes it's hard to know where to start so SHiFT helps navigate this process to quickly turn interest into action. We hope the platform will grow and grow. There is even a feature that allows you to submit your own solution, so it's becoming an incredibly powerful crowdsourced tool - it's so inspiring to keep coming across more ways people are tackling the issue.
Environmentalists and people on the front lines of the climate fight often suffer from burnout - who or what inspires you to keep doing what you are doing and fight the good fight?
Definitely getting out into nature is key. And that's been the hardest thing about lockdown in London, although it's amazing how many secret spots we've found along the Thames that feel surprisingly wild and remote for a big city.
Immersing myself in the natural world continually inspires me - watching the way light bounces off the water, surrounded by a mesmerising pink sky, the feel of salty spray on my skin. I love to get my sketchbook out to capture these moments as it immerses me further. I think a lot of my drive to get up everyday to keep bashing on comes from a deep passion for the ocean, so that connection has to be stoked!
Words and Images by Emily Penn