Documentary film traces faculty member’s research on ocean debris

Jenna JambeckFor someone who spends much of their time studying the flow of plastic waste into the world’s oceans, it’s surprising Jenna Jambeck’s research hasn’t translated into more time on the open water.

In fact, Jambeck’s first excursion on a sailboat came just last year: a 19-day trans-Atlantic voyage with a crew of 13 other women. It’s a voyage chronicled in the documentary film “eXXpedition,” which will be screened at Ciné Athens April 27. The 7 p.m. screening and a panel discussion that follows with Jambeck and filmmaker Jennifer Pate are free and open to the community.

“Physically and mentally, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it was worth every moment,” said Jambeck, an associate professor of environmental engineering in the University of Georgia College of Engineering. “This group of women operated this 72-foot sailboat for 19 days and it was not a luxury cruise.”

In addition to hoisting sails, maintaining equipment, cooking and cleaning aboard the S.V. Sea Dragon, Jambeck and the other crew members devoted four hours a day to research during the 3,000-mile voyage from the Canary Islands to Martinique.

In Jambeck’s case, that meant trawling the Atlantic for plastic debris. What she found ranged from items as large as buoys, bottles and buckets to tiny particles known as microplastics.

“The beach in the Canary Islands where we sampled was the most significant event for me. With each wave, microplastic was washing ashore and I had never witnessed that. It did really bring my research of what is going into the oceans full circle.”

Jambeck’s research attracted international attention earlier this year when she served as lead author of a report that estimated some eight million metric tons of plastic waste makes its way into the world’s oceans each year.  The report, which first appeared in the journal Science, is the most ambitious effort yet to estimate how much plastic debris ends up in the sea. The report also suggests the amount of debris streaming into the oceans is likely to increase significantly over the next decade unless coastal nations take steps to dispose of their trash more responsibly.

Jambeck is also co-developer of the mobile app Marine Debris Tracker, a tool which allows people to report trash they find along the coast and in waterways.  She developed the app along with Kyle Johnsen, also an associate professor in the UGA College of Engineering and a computer systems engineer. The app was named an “App We Can’t Live Without” at the 2014 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference.

“Through my work and this film, I want to help people learn about the issue of plastics in the ocean, toxics in the environment and how these concerns relate to choices we make everyday.”

The UGA College of Engineering is sponsoring the April 27 screening of “eXXpedition” at Ciné Athens. Co-sponsors include the UGA Office of Sustainability, the UGA Center for Integrative Conservation Research, Marine Debris Tracker, and the EcoFocus Film Festival.

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