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Volvo Ocean Race – Sailing for Solutions to Marine Debris

MAY 25, 2018 — On May 18, Marine Debris Program team members attended the Volvo Ocean Race Ocean Summit in Newport, Rhode Island. There, crews from the seven competing sailboats paused their race around the world to gather together with partners to discuss marine conservation.

People seated looking at a person at a podium.
Mid Atlantic Regional Coordinator Jason Rolfe presents on projects supported by the Marine Debris Program in the Northeast.

During the previous summit in Newport, sailors shared stories of plastics in the ocean, concerned that man-made debris in remote areas could have larger negative implications than we realized.

Today, crews on two of the vessels are collecting microplastics samples along their journey. The scientific community is eager to learn more about their findings as these teams visit the furthest corners of the marine environment. Microplastics have been found in nearly all samples collected around the globe. “We have turned race boats into really fast research vessels,” said Dennis Nixon, director of Rhode Island Sea Grant and professor at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography.

During the summit, Jason Rolfe, the Marine Debris Program’s Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator, shared local examples of work being done in New England alongside speakers from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the University of British Colombia, UN Environment, Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the Schmidt Family Foundation, Stena Recycling, the Volvo Car Group, GEOMAR Ocean Research, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Jason shared with the attendees that “because marine debris is caused by people, we are also the solution.”

Through the Volvo Ocean Race and the seven Ocean Summits, participating sailors are able to reach nearly 3 million people. Inspired by what they are learning, many have taken steps to reduce the amount of single-use plastics onboard, and are using their global platform to reach an audience that marine scientists might not have access to.

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Sailboats in a line at a dock.
Sailboats participating in the Volvo Ocean Race docked in Newport, Rhode Island.