Sailors competing in the Volvo Ocean Race are attesting to the growing amount of trash found in the ocean. They’ve reported plastic debris getting stuck on their rudders and keels, slowing down their boats. That was the catalyst for a summit focused on ocean debris during the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Newport.
Sailor Dee Caffari, with Team SCA, has been sailing for 10 years, but she notes the trash has been most prominent along the new routes in this race around the world. What’s most heartbreaking, Caffari said, is witnessing the negative impact trash has on marine creatures.
“We saw seals playing, but they were playing with a plastic bag,” she said. “And so the excitement of seeing an animal in its natural environment was kind of completely torn down when you see it playing with a plastic bag, [and] thinking, well the worst is going to happen.”
Studies have shown ocean plastic trash affects more than 50 percent of sea life. That percentage is significantly higher for sea turtles.
Caffari was one of a number of speakers representing nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies, including Gov. Gina Raimondo, Catherine Novelli, U.S. Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, and Lisa Emelia Svensson, Sweden’s Ambassador for Ocean, Seas, and Freshwater.
“So the idea [for the summit] was born from the sailors,” said Dennis Nixon, Rhode Island Sea Grant director at the University of Rhode Island.
Nixon said the race sponsors wanted to take advantage of the fact that Newport “is the only North American stopover of this incredibly difficult athletic contest... The hope was that we could use this race as a venue to collect people’s attention, to hear the word from the athletes who didn’t expect to be reporting about trash. They want to talk about making their boat go faster.”
Nixon said they want to develop strategies to address the issue of marine debris.
“The race sponsors of Volvo have been really impressed by the interest this subject has brought to the race,” said Nixon. “It’s brought a whole new group of people in the world [who are] focused on what the racers are saying and who otherwise might not have looked at the sports pages, but now this is being reported as a news story about marine debris and ocean pollution.”
Nixon said Volvo Group has expressed a commitment to keep the topic of ocean debris as a major theme of its race going forward and hold more summits like this around the world to gather local interest in every port they visit.
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