My first undergraduate was a science degree from University College Dublin, majoring in biochemistry. I moved over from Ireland in 2002 to study medicine at the University of Manchester, and I now work as a doctor in the NHS. I have a background in anaesthetics and intensive care, but I now specialise in family medicine and digital healthcare.
Understandably, I’m interested in both the environmental and health implications of plastic pollution, particularly the problems associated with microplastics. Robust, scientific data will be a powerful tool to further advance the conversation and to help find solutions.
I’m also passionate about encouraging more women to pursue STEM related careers (science, tech, engineering and maths) as there’s just not enough of us out there.
I’m really hoping not to have to put my medical skills to use on board!
I’ve been passionate about conservation and re-wilding for a long time. I’d been trying to tackle the plastic problem in my own life, trying to lead by example. But often there is a cultural trigger that creates a shift in wider society towards change. I believe that trigger for many people was David Attenborough’s magnificent Blue Planet.
As a child I had National Geographic posters all over my bedroom walls (okay, alongside the posters of A-ha and Bros), one of which showed all the different species of whales. I remember marvelling at how sperm whales could dive over a mile in depth to hunt for giant squid. I dreamed about one day seeing an enormous blue whale move beneath a boat I was in. I even used to fall asleep listening to whale music (yes I admit it, I was a nature nerd!).
My friend told me about eXXpedition over a Christmas drink. At first I remember feeling terrified at the thought of being out there in the open ocean in a little boat. But I knew I had to do this, and I knew that my life would never quite be the same again, because an adventure like this always changes a person.
The fear was rapidly replaced by a flood of hope that I could help reach out to people on a global scale. I could not, not sign up!Why did you choose your specific leg of the journey?
My particular leg of the voyage will be focusing on the fragile habitats around the Galapagos, which are the geologically important volcanic islands that were the source of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
I remember learning about his famous finches during my biology classes in school. To see them for real would be to feel a part of scientific history. To learn about the extent of plastic pollution affecting this priceless living laboratory will be edifying and I’m sure, very upsetting.
I’ve been on boats lots of times over the years, but I’m not a trained sailor. Luckily I don’t need to be. There is a full professional sailing crew on each leg of the voyage, and they will teach us the basics of sailing if we’re up for it, so I’m really excited about that. And I can't wait to see the incredible night skies!
I had never suffered with seasickness until my last choppy boat trip to the wind farm off the coast of Brighton about a year ago. It really was such a horrible experience and I think thats what I’m a little nervous about. I’ll remember my seasickness tablets this time!What do you hope you will personally gain from the eXXpedition?
Wild and epic adventure always seemed to be something that other people did, so I can’t quite believe I'm doing this! It will be an opportunity for me to make a real contribution to something that is so much bigger than us all.
The work we will be doing will help educate communities, change policy and legislation and inform future generations of product designers, manufacturers and materials scientists. This will eventually help us to develop technologies and solutions that will reduce the impact of the human presence on our planet.
I’m also looking forward to working with a bunch of incredible women! I recently had the pleasure of meeting some of my crew mates at the eXXpedition Summit in London, and I’m already awe-struck by their intelligence, creativity and drive. Living aboard our 73 foot yacht S/V Travel Edge in the open ocean will lead to some profound bonding experiences.
eXXpedition aims to assemble all-female multi-disciplinary crews from all over the world (artists, scientists, storytellers, business leaders, medics, teachers, film makers) for sailing expeditions all around the globe. The crews will be conducting science on board, and engaging with local communities to explore solutions to ocean plastic.
Each leg of the voyage is designed to encourage collaboration between the crew members and local community groups, and to open conversations around female leadership and environmental awareness.
eXXpedition is only the beginning. It is meant to equip us with the skills and knowledge to bring the story home afterwards and to begin to effect change within our communities and the wider world. Thats when the real work begins!What do you hope to find on your voyage and how do you hope this will make a difference to how we consume plastic?
Science is uncovering that the largest collections of ocean plastic litter are accumulating material from many sources and nations. If we can discover more about these sources, and understand more about the complex infrastructural and socioeconomic reasons behind why this happens, then we can help find land-based solutions to stop the flow.
Hopefully then we may then one day see a regeneration in our ocean resilience and biodiversity as a result of this work.
Personally I'm hoping to find abundant happy and healthy wildlife, flourishing reefs and cleaner seas, but somehow I'm not sure I will :(
The plastic problem is a symptom of the greater issue of our over consumption in general. We have become a disposable society. Every day we’re bombarded with powerful ad campaigns that tap right into our psychology to get us to spend more money on useless clutter. We're literally told what we need. Its so hard to make better, more informed choices when we're shopping.
You may have heard the phrase ‘Reduce Reuse Recycle’, but really we only focus on the Recycle part. In fact, we know that recycling is the least efficient way of managing our waste. The best way is to avoid producing the waste in the first place: Reduce and Reuse.
By reducing what we buy, or by buying better quality and longer lasting items, we're reducing demand. Therefore fewer low value, disposable items will be manufactured in the first place.
For example most people don't realise that their acrylic and polyester clothing is made from plastic fibres. These fibres then get washed down the drain, and become microplastics in our water systems, thereby affecting marine life. So choosing brands like Asquith and their ethical activewear can be a part of your individual plastic solution.
Its a process and it doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t feel despondent. Start by making small changes in your own life, inform and educate yourself about the choices you make, and spread the word!.How do you think we can get governments and big corporate brands to step back and listen to these facts?
Of course we need to accept some responsibility ourselves as consumers and waste producers, but absolutely we need to introduce robust legislation and implement policy change high up the corporate and political chain to find sustainable alternatives and solutions to the problem.
Effecting change at these levels can be painfully slow, but the only way is to keep driving the message home, with high profile scientific and cultural leaders presenting them with the undeniable evidence that means they will have no choice but to change, or be left behind. This is at the heart of what eXXpedition is all about.
The saddest thing I have discovered is that all we can do now is try to stem the tide of plastic flow from dry land because, unfortunately microplastics are virtually impossible to clean up. Yes, they are here to stay.
The most shocking fact I learned is that plastic pollution has been found in sediment at the very bottom of the deepest ocean trenches, and it has been found inside the starfish that live down there. The Rockall Trough in the North Atlantic just off the coast of Ireland is one of those places, and is between 2,500m and 3,500m deep. Imagine that.
There is still a gap yes. A study by NHS Digital in March 2018 revealed that despite women making up over three quarters of all NHS staff, they are still in the minority in senior roles. The gap is closing though. In 2009 38% of all Chief Executives across NHS Trusts, CCGs, supporting organisations and central bodies were women. In 2018 this had risen to 44%.
Surgery for example continues to be predominantly male, despite a narrowing of the gap. 27% of surgeons in 2018 were women compared with 24% in 2009.
The change in the gender balance of my speciality, general practice, over the past decade has been marked however. As recently as 2007 women made up just 42% of the GP workforce (this was not including junior doctors). By 2012 this had risen to 47%, and the trend continued to reach 54% in September 2017.
So for the first time ever women make up over half of the GP workforce, which is great news!If you were to give one tip to every woman trying to break into science and medicine what would it be and why?
Don't hide! Sometimes it can be a struggle to feel confident, or imaginative. But don’t hide, stand out, be brave and take the leap.
Oh gosh, so many ways! Science is at the heart of our modern society. Use social media and great, evidence based infographics to capture their imaginations.
Role models are so important: Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, Dorothy Vaughan, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Rebecca Lee Crumpler, Hannah Fry, the list goes on (if you don't recognise these names, please Google them!)
Get the conversation going in classrooms about the coolest stuff happening in the universe right now, from wireless brain sensors and nanobots, to climate science and black holes.
Find great men like Prof Jim Al-Khalili who celebrate women’s successes in science.
There will always be girls and women who don’t feel their skills lie in the science arena. But we can support the artists working on how to get the world talking about humanity’s successes in these fields, and the business minds may be able to develop great infrastructures and commercial enterprises around women’s work in science and medicine.
We need to encourage and drive inspiring efforts utilising all our talents. That is exactly what eXXpedition is aiming to achieve.
I have already done a sea survival training course with some of my fellow eXXpedition crew mates, which involved much splashing about with life jackets and inflatable life rafts. I had face-ache from laughing by the end of it!
Of course, our safety is paramount for eXXpedition. The skipper is well trained in first aid and is highly capable in any medical situation that could develop on board, and the ship’s doctor is available via satellite phone. But personally I would feel a little irresponsible if I didn’t undertake some medical training in the unlikely case of any emergency on board. Being far from immediate medical support my crew would understandably be looking to me to step in, which is fair enough.
For that reason I’m undertaking a course in wilderness medicine with an organisation that provides training in expedition medicine for health professionals. I’m aiming to eventually become a qualified expedition doctor. I am also very passionate about fitness. I''m working on an intense training plan with my gym, so more adventures please!Have you been given any advice on how to mentally prepare for such a voyage and if so what has it been?
Its all about having the right attitude: a positive frame of mind, and a willingness to muck in.
On board we share ideas and help each other to be imaginative. We take turns keeping watch, bleary-eyed, under the stars at night. We cook the meals, tidy up and clean the toilets.
I think the best quality anyone could have on board is a sense of humour. We need to keep each other smiling when its stormy, and to hold each other’s hair back when we’re helplessly leaning over the side saying goodbye to breakfast.
We’re a team, there for each other, all in the same boat ( ! ).
As little as possible! I’m notoriously awful at packing light, but with so little storage space on board I’ll have no choice, so that will make it easier.
Among my necessities will be eco-friendly sunscreen of course, a shampoo bar, a bamboo toothbrush, cereal bars, and photos of my gorgeous husband Paul, and my fur-babies (my cats, Terry and June) to stick to the wall of my bunk and of course ethical activewear from you guys..If you could only live in one item of Asquith clothing for the eXXpedition what would it be and why?
My Grey Move-It Leggings! They are so comfy and flexible! I chose the grey because I can’t wear black in the sunshine (black attracts heat, its a thing I have!).
But the most important reason is because they are made from natural bamboo and organic cotton fibres. We have to be very careful about the fabrics we wear on board, because any stray microplastic fibres from synthetic materials would contaminate our samples. Fleeces are banned!.
Anyone can find loads more information on microplastics, the science behind our work and our mission in general on www.exxpedition.com. We also need more women to apply for future voyages, so go for it!
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Move It Leggings
These flattering leggings are super soft against your skin and hold you in. The elasticated, double depth waistband makes them extremely comfortable and secure. The hip and side seam details have will flatter every figure and shape your bottom.Buy here
You can find out more about the entire amazing project here, along with bios of all the team and crew involved here...
Check out Hilary's Go Fund Me page here...
Follow her journey on Instagram here...
Shop our ethical leggings and help Hilary on her amazing adventure here....