- Up to nearly 1,900 microplastics per cubic metre (pm3)* of water have been found in samples collected by teams during the initial legs of The Ocean Race
- A new interactive tool for exploring the data has just launched: theoceanracescience.com
Preliminary results from the initial legs of the current edition of The Ocean Race show microplastics in each one of the 40 samples analysed so far, with as many as 1,884 microplastics per cubic metre (pm3)* of water in some locations.
Samples analysed from leg two of round-the-world sailing Race, from Mindelo, Cabo Verde to Cape Town, South Africa, found microplastic concentrations ranging from 92 to 1,884 particles pm3. The samples of microplastics were of similar levels to the samples collected during leg three, the longest leg in the Race’s 50 year history, a 12,750 nautical mile journey through the Southern Ocean. Despite being one of the most remote parts of the planet, 160 – 1,492 particles pm3 were found in samples collected during this section of the Race, between Cape Town and Itajaí, Brazil.
Microplastics are being collected throughout the 60,000km race, using an onboard Sampling Unit: a special filter system designed to collect plastic particles (between 0.03mm and 5mm), which is carried onboard by two teams – GUYOT environnement – Team Europe and Team Holcim – PRB. The unit works by drawing water in and through a filter over a two hour period to capture the microplastics. New samples are taken each day by the sailors and, after each leg, are provided to the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in the UK for analysis, with support from the University of Rhode Island, USA. NOC recently became a Scientific Collaborator of The Ocean Race, reflecting the two organisations dedication to using the Race’s platform to accelerate ocean science.
Victoria Fulfer, visiting scientist from the University of Rhode Island at NOC, said:
“It’s really concerning that we are finding microplastics in every sample, from coastal areas to the most remote regions of the ocean. Over half of our samples so far have more than 500 microplastic particles per cubic metre that are larger than 0.1 mm, and those concentrations only get higher when we look at even smaller particles. The problem has become pervasive, and sampling efforts like those captured during this race are vital to help us understand the extent of microplastic pollution in the ocean. The samples collected by teams in The Ocean Race are unique because they cover a large spatial range in a short amount of time, giving scientists a sort of “snapshot” of the state of microplastic pollution in the global ocean for 2023.”
Measurements were highest closest to urban areas, such as around Cabo Verde and South Africa, and in known “garbage patch” areas where ocean circulation leads particles to accumulate.
Stefan Raimund, Science Lead for The Ocean Race, said: “We are learning more and more about just how pervasive microplastics are in the ocean. They are found in species across the marine environment, from plankton to whales, and we are consuming them ourselves in seafood and even drinking water. Science is the most powerful weapon we have in fighting this issue. The data we gather can help inform and influence business and governments to make the decisions that can better protect our planet.
“We are making all of the data collected by teams during the Race accessible to all, through our new interactive science tool. We’ll be adding more information throughout the race so that the science community, Race fans and anyone else who is interested can explore the data and learn more about the health of the ocean.”
For the first time in the round-the-world Race, the chemical structure of the plastic particles is also being examined to help grow understanding about which plastic products are entering the ocean and breaking down into microplastics. The most abundant chemical found so far is polyethylene, which is used in many products, including single-use packaging, plastic bags and containers including bottles.
The Ocean Race’s science initiative is part of the Racing with Purpose sustainability programme, which was created with 11th Hour Racing. All teams taking part in the competition are involved, carrying a range of equipment that collects data about the impact of human activity on the ocean. 11th Hour Racing Team and Team Malizia carry an OceanPack to capture data about climate change and the ocean, while Biotherm are gathering information on ocean biodiversity.
The results from this edition of the Race, which started in Alicante, Spain on 15th January 2023 and will finish in Genova, Italy, the Grand Finale, at the end of June are significantly higher compared with the microplastic data captured during the last edition in 2017-18. During the previous edition samples ranged from 50-100 pm3 with levels thought to be up to 18 times higher this time around because of an increase in microplastic pollution and improvements in the analysis methods and technology. This edition is also analysing microplastic fibres – which are incredibly prevalent while the 2017-18 edition didn’t test for them.
The Ocean Race is contributing scientific data to the Ocean Decade Odyssey project, which is an endorsed Project of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Develoment (2021-2030)supporting efforts to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health and create improved conditions for sustainable development of the ocean.
Head to theoceanracescience.com to discover more.
*Initial results have analysed plastic particles between 0.1mm – 5mm. Deeper analysis, examining particles as small as 0.03mm will be published following the Race.
NOTES TO EDITORS
For press enquiries, please contact:
Heather Carswell: [email protected] / +34 660 86 0690
NOC: [email protected] / 02380 382970
About The Ocean Race
Since 1973, The Ocean Race has provided the ultimate test of a team and a human adventure like no other. For nearly 50 years, it has kept an almost mythical hold over some of the greatest sailors and been the proving ground for the legends of our sport.
The 14th edition of The Ocean Race started from Alicante, Spain on January 15th 2023, and will finish in Genova, the Grand Finale, in Italy early in the summer of 2023. The race visits nine iconic cities around the globe over a six-month period (Alicante, Spain – Cabo Verde – Cape Town, South Africa – Itajaí, Brazil – Newport, RI, USA – Aarhus, Denmark – Kiel Fly-By, Germany – The Hague, the Netherlands – Genova, Italy) and features a leg with the longest racing distance in the 50-year history of the event – a 12,750 nautical mile, one-month marathon from Cape Town, South Africa to Itajaí, Brazil. The IMOCA fleet of mixed crews will pass all three great southern Capes – Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, Cape Horn – non-stop, for the first time.
Along with five confirmed foiling IMOCA teams racing around the world, six one-design VO65 boats will race on three legs with an option to compete for a new trophy within The Ocean Race called The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint Cup.
Sustainability in The Ocean Race
We have a proven commitment to sustainability, and with the support and collaboration of 11th Hour Racing, Founding Partner of the Race Sustainability Programme and Premier Partner of The Ocean Race, we are inspiring action and creating tangible outcomes.
Building upon our award-winning legacy in sustainability, our innovative Racing With Purpose programme is acting as a catalyst for positive change and accelerating the application of innovative solutions to help restore ocean health.
About the National Oceanography Centre
NOC is the UK’s leading institution for integrated coastal and deep ocean research. NOC undertakes and facilitates world-class agenda-setting scientific research and technology development to understand the global ocean by solving challenging multidisciplinary, large scale, long-term marine science problems to underpin international and UK public policy, business and societal outcomes. The NOC is a company limited by guarantee set up under the law of England and Wales (11444362) and registered as a charity (1185265).
The NOC operates the Royal Research Ships James Cook and Discovery and develops technology for coastal and deep ocean research. Working with its partners the NOC provides long-term marine science capability including: sustained ocean observations, mapping and surveying; data management and scientific research and advice.
About the University of Rhode Island
The University of Rhode Island is Rhode Island’s flagship research university, and it enrolls more than 17,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 41 U.S. states and 31 countries. Its colleges of nursing, pharmacy, business, engineering, arts and sciences, environment and life sciences, health sciences, and education and professional studies, and its Graduate School of Oceanography are signature centers of scholarship and research. It is known regionally and worldwide for its pioneering research in such areas as ocean sciences, ocean engineering, coastal resiliency, food sustainability, fisheries, biomedical sciences; air, water, ground pollution, and plastic pollution; engineering, marine sciences, forensic sciences, neuroscience, pharmaceuticals, the behavioral sciences, and public health promotion. As one of the United States’ premier academic oceanographic institutions, URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography educates marine scientists, students, policymakers, business leaders and citizens and helps develop the knowledge and skills necessary to address present and future marine challenges. In 2024, the new $125 million National Science Foundation Regional Class Research Vessel Narragansett Dawn is slated to be delivered to URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus, which is home to the Graduate School of Oceanography.