Aarathi Arumugam is a Malaysian living in Singapore who together with an all-female team of changemakers is preparing to embark on a global expedition to witness the devastating impacts of single-use plastic and toxins in our oceans. Her story is fueled by fear but coupled with courage and a desire to make the world a better place for her children. But, she needs your help.
eXXpedition Round the World 2019-2021 is a series of 30 voyages that will see 300 women sail a total of 38,000 nautical miles to study the impact of plastic and toxins in our global seas and land. I, Aarathi Arumugam, was selected to be one of them. And this is my story…
The turning point…
We live in such an amazing time, where inventions have changed the way we consume everything from information to toys, which then creates mass areas of waste all around us. The head of the United Nations Environment Programme called this era of our seas an “ocean Armageddon” in 2017. Each year, 90% of the 320 million tonnes of plastic produced from Q-tips to sneakers—is never recycled. If this continues, by 2050 the plastic in the ocean will outweigh the fish.
When I became a member of the ‘married with kids’ community, awareness surrounding this issue jumped ten-fold — it just became so real. I was surrounded by other parents who insisted on buying everything new without a thought about the life-cycle of a product. I watched older children become influenced by the consumption choices of their friends and neighbours. This created a growing panic within me about what sort of world we would be leaving behind for these very same children. As custodians of this earth, with the power to make the small and big decisions, I found I could not ignore the plastics issue any longer. I realised too that more research and information was needed. And then I was presented with an opportunity that I looked at as a chance to contribute towards making a change.
Now, let me tell you about the eXXpedition…
eXXpedition was founded in 2014 by ocean advocate Emily Penn and Dr. Lucy Gilliam to make the unseen seen, from the toxics in our bodies to the toxics in our seas. In the same year, eXXpedition embarked on its first mission and empowered a network of multidisciplinary female change-makers and leaders to use their unique skill sets to shift the way communities feel, think and act towards the oceans, helping solve the plastic pollution crisis. It later became a Community Interest Company in 2017, and since then, 100 amazing women from all walks of life who share a passion for protecting people and planet from plastic pollution have taken part in eXXpedition voyages all over the world.
Each voyage is designed to encourage collaboration between crewmembers and community groups, and to open conversations around female leadership, personal and environmental awareness, and cultural and societal shifts. They have supported more than 28 scientific studies through citizen science, including a NASA-funded program to track ocean debris. It is as a result of the research done by the earlier eXXpedition team in 2014 that resulted in the ban of microbeads in beauty products in 2015.
In October 2019, I will be the first Singaporean resident joining a global, all-female team of teen other female changemakers, on the maiden leg of a 2-year mission sailing across the globe. We will be sailing for approximately ten days from Plymouth, UK, upwind just over 1,200 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean to the Azores, Portugal.
From an armed police officer, a yoga and surf instructor, a Mariner, conservation and sustainability educators and documentary producers, our multi-disciplinary team will be experiencing first-hand the overwhelming and damaging impact of plastic waste and toxins in our oceans and its communities as we engage citizen science experiments. The aim? To contribute towards cutting edge research and solutions urgently needed to inform upstream solutions.
Why all the women…
The all-female crew also appealed to me because the research of women-specific diseases has a low public profile in the media. There is an imbalance in research funding directed towards gender-specific diseases, too. The mounting evidence linking plastics and related toxins to the chemical implications of endocrine disruptors on the female body, and the impact on women’s health is devastating. It’s also something that I have been faced with. Breast cancer has been the changing landscape of some important women in my life, and I had been through severe difficulties in conceiving myself. We need a better understanding of the links between the health of the environment and of our bodies. So why not be a part of the crew that attempts to tackle this?
Through this story, I hope to use my voice and my community to inform and educate, so to create an inspiring group of change-makers that better understand the many facets of these implications. I will use that to shape actions and solutions aimed at reducing the harmful impact on the ocean and marine life and indeed to the rest of humankind. As part of my crowd-funding appeal, I offer to speak for free at events within communities, and content pieces for their publications, so that I may contribute to raising the awareness around these issues. Armed with the scientific findings from the voyage, which will keep evolving, I will endeavour to collaborate and contribute to upstream solutions with organisations here in Singapore and Asia. I also hope to run an event for children and families in 2020 around these messages.
Living in Singapore, where we are surrounded by water and beaches that are often cluttered with pieces of plastic waste, and hailing from Malaysia, which has become a place that plastic waste goes to die, the plastic issue is something we no longer have the choice but to be interested in.
The issues surrounding plastic matter to all of us as a community: how we dispose of plastics and other seemingly harmless materials that make our waters toxic, how plastics are broken down by sun, wind and water, how it impacts sea life, and how that affects our health. Never before has the circle of life been so keenly pictured in real life rather than in a documentary narrated by Sir Richard Attenborough.
We don’t have to be a conservationist or a scientist to be involved in something like this—I am not a personality or anyone famous and I don’t have to be. I believe an opportunity like this offers regular citizens around the world, to be agents of change, able to contribute toward a legacy that benefits all.
I think I owe it to you, dear reader to be absolutely candid—I am nervous. Actually, I am scared. I am not a sailor by any stretch of the imagination, and I am not sure if being on a boat for a four-day regatta ten years ago is a true test of how I will weather this voyage. Also, I am certainly not a scientist, nor am I a conservationist.
But it is precisely because of this fear that I have grabbed this once in a lifetime opportunity and am setting on a journey to fix the very life-blood of our world.
If you are interested to learn more, support and indeed follow Aarathi’s expedition, find more information here.