Last month, EYOS CEO Ben Lyons participated in the first ever Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit during three days at sea off Bermuda. The expedition transformed an expedition cruiseship into a floating summit as a diverse group of key influencers and corporations came together to address the increasing problem of ocean plastic.

The meeting was the idea of EYOS partner Soul Buffalo Expeditions, which organizes purpose driven, socially responsible conferences. Working with EYOS Expeditions on the marine logistics and vessel chartering, Soul Buffalo secured One Ocean’s ship the RCGS Resolute and various stakeholders were invited to Bermuda for the conference. Attendees spanned the entire spectrum from large corporations such as Dow, Proctor and Gamble, and Hasbro; NGOs working to reduce plastic consumption; waste management organizations that collect and recycle plastics; and artists and activists including Greenpeace. Media, including National Geographic and Outside magazine, were also onboard to cover the expedition.

The summit began with a beach clean up on one of Bermuda’s beaches that, at first glance, seems pristine. Digging closer, however, participants found a plethora of small ‘micro’ plastics that littered the beach and were embedded in the washed up sargassum. (Large pieces of plastic were also recovered, as well, such as a 50 gallon plastic drum that had to be dug out of the sand.)

The next morning, Resolute sailed out of Bermuda and into the open Atlantic—right in the middle of one of the five gyres around the world where plastic tends to accumulate due to ocean currents. After a morning session hearing from various stakeholders, the expedition capability of Resolute was put to use and all 160 participants were able to take to Zodiacs in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean—and go snorkeling on a large patch of sargassum in almost 8,000 feet of water.

Seeing firsthand what was floating just at the surface of this random patch of the ocean was startling. The common perception of these ‘garbage patches’ is inaccurate- the ocean still looked pristine from the Zodiacs. While large pieces of plastic were quickly recovered – a toilet seat, a speaker, several cups, toothbrushes and more- it was only once in the water snorkeling that it was evident how numerous the microplastics were. One participant described it as a ‘plastic smog.’ Trawling for microplastics was also conducted by several Zodiacs, and an onboard lab dissected locally caught fish to examine the presence of microplastics in the food chain.

Throughout the next two days, Resolute sailed the waters of the North Atlantic as participants broke into working groups throughout the ship- some in the lounge, some enjoying the beautiful weather by electing to work on deck- to tackle the challenges in their respective fields. The unique location of having everyone together on a ship- whether enjoying a BBQ on deck or stepping into a Zodiac- has allowed participants with very different perspectives to engage directly in a way that a normal conference would never achieve.

At the end of the expedition, numerous pledges were made and roadmaps laid out. 30/60/90 day plans were presented for review, and most significantly, dialogue is now ongoing and energized. There are already plans for a similar summit to follow up on the work from this year’s expedition.