Foley resident raising funds for ocean plastic pollution research mission
Verschraegen’s trip will help her develop educational programs for O.B.s Leave Only Your Footprints initiative
By Fran Thompson
Marjan Verschraegen, a Foley resident and City of Orange Beach employee, has been selected to be part of the all-female crew that will embark on a two-year sailing research mission around the world to investigate the causes of and solutions to ocean plastic pollution.
The eXXpedition Round the World voyage, which set sail from Plymouth, UK on October 8, will sail through some of the most important and diverse marine environments on the planet. This includes crossing four of the five oceanic gyres, where ocean plastic is known to accumulate, and the Arctic.
Onboard a 73 ft. sailing vessel (S.V. TravelEdge), Verschraegen will be among 300 women crewing over 30 voyage legs totaling more than 38,000 nautical miles. She will be part of leg 11 from Tonga to Fiji next May.
“I will be part of a science program that studies micro-plastics in the oceans,’’ she said. “The whole crew works and studies on board. It will be very inspiring for my artistic project and my job.’’
A native of Belgium, Verschraegen moved to the Alabama Gulf Coast five years ago and immediately volunteered with Share The Beach Turtle Watch group.
“While I walked to discover sea turtle tracks, I picked up lots of trash. Being a professional photographer, it inspired me to start making an ocean trash bible,” she said.
After Phillip West, Orange Beach’s Director of Coastal Resources and her supervisor, told her about the local Leave Only Your Footprints program, Verschraegen also started working with that program and now patrols the beach to educate tourists about our beautiful environment.
“I work for Phillip West with the Coastal Resources,’’ she said. “I patrol the beach in the Leave Only Footprints jeep, and educate people about city ordinances, wildlife and the environment. Our goal is to show the tourists how to understand this area better.
Verschraegen’s work with Leave Only Your Footprints has also inspired her artistically.
“During the last five years at work, I picked up a lot of stuff,’’ Verschraegen said. “Wigs, rugs, fabric. It inspired me to create Jane Trash.’’
The educational persona that Verschraegen is developing is Jane Trash (pictured). Jane lived in the ocean for a long time before she found herself stranded in Alabama. She is on a mission to educate our children and their parents about what is out there in our oceans, and what polluting those oceans does to our planet and to the humans inhabiting our planet.
“I created her out of all the trash I found on Alabama beaches, and I will crawl in her personality and act,’’ she said. “I am still working on developing her persona. But I would love to use it as an educational tool with children.’’
She plans to set up educational those programs using Jane Trash’s persona upon return from her adventure.
“To set up educational programs like this, I need inspiring people to work and study with. So, I applied for eXXpedition,’’ she said. “These women are scientists, community leaders, academics, artists, filmmakers, business women, psychologists, doctors, actors, ocean activists, sustainability professionals, and they include novice as well as experienced sailors.”
Verschraegen will need to raise $6,500 to finance her trip, and has set up a gofundme site at gofundme.com for anyone interested in helping. She is also selling 2020 calendars that are available at oceantrash.be/online-store.
She is also contacting local businesses for sponsorships both here and in her native Belgium.
“A lof of people have really stepped up to help me,’’ she said. “This is about much more than environmental education. I can use it in my work on the beach and with my ocean trash design photography. It is all one big thing. That is what is so beautiful about it.’’
Beyond contributing to cutting-edge scientific research, the mission aims to create a powerful global network of female ambassadors. The explorers will use their experience at sea when they get back on dry land as leaders in their respective fields, helping to end the flow of plastics into our ocean.
Almost 10,000 women from around the world applied to take part in the voyage. Participants are aged between 18 and 57, and represent over 30 nationalities.
“The plastic pollution challenge our ocean faces is a global one and it will take an inspired army of passionate, skilled and experienced people to tackle it,’’ said Mission Director and co-founder Emily Penn.
“Our mission is a unique opportunity to build a comprehensive picture of the state of our seas, while conducting much needed research that will inform practical and effective solutions to ocean pollution.’’
“We are starting our Round the World voyage with an amazing crew and some fantastic partners who help to make the dream of such an ambitious project a reality,’’ she added. “Many great organizations are supporting our journey and share our vision of tackling ocean plastic through scientific research and empowering changemakers.
“We’re looking forward to contributing to much needed solutions back on land by inspiring our passionate crew to collaborate and take lessons back to their communities.”
Research conducted during the mission has been designed to advance a better understanding of the plastics issue as a whole and to work with industry to pinpoint solutions and policy at a global level by addressing knowledge-gaps and delivering evidence to inform effective solutions.
“In recent years, tackling the plastics in our oceans has become one of our most high-profile environmental challenges,’’ said Richard Thompson, head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit. “It is crucial that we use innovative and informed means to develop a greater understanding of the issue’s global scale, and to identify ways to address it. This collaboration will undoubtedly help achieve that, and we are delighted to be working with eXXpedition to generate new knowledge and interest in this important area.”
Find out more about eXXpedition Round the World at exxpedition.com.