“Our mission isn’t about cleaning up, it’s about turning off the tap”
When three ordinary working women pledged to challenge the everyday use of single-use disposable plastic, they set themselves up for an extraordinary task. With no prior experience in rowing, this female trio – better known as Status Row – will row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic over seven weeks in December this year to raise awareness and take action against plastic pollution in oceans.
Participating in the annual race organised by Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, Jessica Rego (28), Susan Ronaldson (41) and Caroline Wilson (31) are all prepared to race against 30 teams from around the world, where they will row for 50 days, 12 hours a day. From San Sebastian in La Gomera to Nelson’s Dockyard English Harbour, these women will be covering approximately 3,000 nautical miles.
“Our mission isn’t about cleaning up – it is about turning off the tap. Raising awareness that we must stop plastic going into the oceans,” Ronaldson, who is a Director of Engagement and Change at the National Audit Office, told Indianexpress.com.
“Already the oceans are filled with at least 165 million tonnes of plastic and that is increasing by 8 million tonnes a year. If we do nothing there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050,” added Ronaldson.
They believe that monumental changes can take place through small behavioural tweaks. Like for instance, swapping a plastic straw for a reusable stainless steel one or simply using a cloth bag for shopping instead of plastic.
“We’re encouraging everyone to question their use of plastic, especially single use. By swapping out the big four – plastic bottles, coffee cups, bags and straws – one person can reduce their lifetime plastic use drastically,” says Rego, who is a marketing manager for a small company called Fintech.
Status Row’s initiative against plastic pollution also brings to sharp focus to the recent news of a whale that washed up dead in southern Thailand. In its autopsy, at least 18 pounds of plastic bags were extracted from its stomach. This is not the only example.
Earlier this month, a 10-feet, 6-tonne sperm whale washed up dead on the southern coast of Spain in a similar situation: 29 kg of waste, mostly plastic, was found from its belly.
So along with raising awareness through this initiative, they also plan to raise 20,000 GBP for UK’s leading marine charity, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).
The MCS works to ensure that seas are healthy and pollution-free. It has contributed to policy changes in the United Kingdom such as charging for plastic bag usage and banning microbeads in cosmetics.
Hailing from different backgrounds, the Status Row women share a common enthusiasm for environmental conservation. Their mission statement says “they want to bridge the gap between awareness and action when it comes to plastic pollution, and spread the word to refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle”.
However, “deciding to do the row came with a bit of kismet (destiny) for the team,” says Jessica.
For these women, the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge presented a unique opportunity to push their limits and drive massive awareness against plastic pollution. This would become their way of taking affirmative action against marine litter.
Rowing in ‘Poppy’ – the boat the women group recently purchased for their challenge – the women would become the ‘fastest ever trio’ to row across the Atlantic in 50 days.
But they also know that achieving this feat won’t be easy. Especially, when Wilson and Ronaldson experienced medical issues in the past. In 2011, Caroline was diagnosed with acute transverse myelitis, in which she couldn’t move or feel her arms and upper body. In her blog titled ‘learning to swim’ last year, Wilson wrote: “It’s difficult to explain but even today my arms tire quickly and struggle to repeat certain movements without my shoulder moving in uncomfortable and unnatural ways.”
Ronaldson, on the other hand, was lying on a hospital bed wired to a machine with electrodes attached to her skull due to epilepsy five years earlier. “By early 2013 I was a complete wreck. Drugged up to the eyeballs and exhausted from the seizures, I could barely function,” Ronaldson wrote in her blog titled ‘5 years today.’
Now, they have emerged stronger but also realise that surviving in the ocean for almost two months is a challenge. To remain fit, they are required to consume 6,000- 8,000 calories per day to maintain their strength.
“A big surprise to us once we got into training was how much would be focused on strength rather than constant rowing,” said Rego.
To build endurance, Olympic silver medalist Guin Batten is teaching the women rowing drills.
“Currently, we’re working towards a 2×2 pattern (two hours rowing, two hours off and then repeat again) on the indoor rower which will mimic our rotation at sea. Not only will this help with our stamina but will also help train our minds for the long days with limited variety or entertainment,” said Rego.
In order to build up their stamina and strength for the voyage, Andy Bruce is training them in core movements to build functional strength, with a ‘lot of squats and push-ups’.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has noted that single-use items such as plastic bags and straws make up the highest concentration of pollution in seas and oceans. A UN report said Tuesday on World Environment Day that less than a 10th of all the plastic ever made has been recycled, and governments should consider banning or taxing single-use bags or food containers to stem a tide of pollution. “Only 9 per cent of the 9 billion tonnes of plastic the world has ever produced has been recycled,” the report said. “Most ends up in landfills, dumps or in the environment.”
Keeping this in mind, Status row challenges the use of the big four, plastic bottles, coffee cups, bags and straws and is working towards piquing interest in people to make use of reusable items in daily lives.
“Much like strokes of the oar across the ocean, these small everyday changes add up to a monumental impact,” added Jessica.