COVID-19 threw a wrench into Plastic Oceans Canada’s fieldwork plans for the 2020 season. Like many organizations around the world, we had to ask ourselves: how can we continue to get fieldwork done safely and effectively? The plastic problem isn’t going away. In fact, with Covid-19, there are signs that single-use plastics are on the rise.

As the South Pacific is a region with many isolated islands, it is an ideal place to work on quantifying the amount of plastic washing up on remote and uninhabited islands. Since our Executive Director has a long history in the area, the South Pacific became the fieldwork destination. The trick was how to get to the research vessel, S.V. Moana, moored in Fiji.

Due to travel restrictions, flying to Fiji was not an option. During August, French Polynesia was the only country in the South Pacific accepting travellers without the requirement to quarantine upon arrival. Tahiti became the destination – at least for step one.

Travelling in the time of COVID is a lesson in patience, slowing down, and engaging in best practices. Flying to Fiji to the S.V. Moana would have taken a day. Sailing on a 38-foot catamaran 2000 nautical miles from Tahiti to Fiji took two weeks.

Bluewater sailing is a forced break from many aspects of daily life in the 21st Century. There is no Internet. You have what you brought on board and nothing more. The boat moves at the pace the wind blows. It’s a reminder of how little we truly need to be healthy and happy.

Now in Fiji, it is time for step two. We are preparing S.V. Moana for fieldwork. Once ready, we will begin to take samples of plastic from remote and uninhabited islands. These samples will allow us to calculate an estimate of how much marine debris is ending up in these coastal areas. The materials collected will be recycled into circular-economy products, reducing the risk of the plastic ending up back in the ocean.  

Throughout this process, we have taken every precaution to mitigate the risks of COVID-19.  As we develop a work plan, we continue to monitor countries’ maritime border policies and blue lane entry requirements.

If you would like to learn more about this program and how it aligns with our efforts at home and abroad, we welcome you to visit our Direct Action Page.