Patrick Deixonne, 7th Continent Expedition

Patrick Deixonne is an Explorer Navigator, head of mission for the 7th Continent Expedition, a member of the French Society of Explorers, and an activist for plastic-free oceans.

  • How was the 7th Continent Expedition adventure born?

  • Everything began after I rowed across the Atlantic on my own. During that voyage I saw a great deal of plastic waste in the water. Once again on land, I did some research and found out about Charles Moore’s discovery of a continent of plastic waste in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. I visited it since, to make sure that it existed, and to confirm the size of the disaster. We then launched an initial expedition in 2013 with a tight budget, a small boat, no partners, and only one scientist on board. When I got there, I experienced something akin to an electric shock. Imagine tonnes of plastic floating around right in the middle of the ocean, gathered together into an immense shelf by the currents. It is a frightening soup of plastic. When I got back to France, I confirmed that the vast majority of the public was not aware of this frightening truth. We had to make people aware of this. We were thus faced with the challenge of informing the public, but also scientists and politicians.
  • 7th Continent Expedition took to sea again on 15 May 2015, setting sail for the Sargasso Sea in the Northern Atlantic. What are the challenges facing this new expedition?

The first challenge is a scientific one: In this new expedition, the largest French research organisations have mobilised their human and technical capabilities. Does the algae in the Sargasso Sea feed on waste to proliferate? Is there a link between “jellification” of the oceans (the proliferation of jellyfish) and the massive amount of plastic pollution in the oceans? What is the composition of the “plastisphere” that promotes life such as viruses, bacteria, and pathogenic agents in the midst of persistent organic pollutants? These are some of the questions that will be addressed during the expedition.

The second challenge is clearly an educational one: to symbolize the dispersion of waste from land, and to raise awareness, we are organising and mobilising the public to collect and clean up waste on land in various stages. For this purpose, the expedition will make stops in the French Antilles, and another team will do the same along the Seine, in order to raise awareness among the public and students. In addition, we hope that the expedition will be covered extensively by the media so that we can reach the greatest number of people possible.

The last challenge is action: It is urgent that we act on the issue of waste management and on alternative solutions to plastic in order to reduce waste at the source.

  • What is the role of a partnership such as that you have signed with SUEZ?

It is very important for us that a group such as SUEZ environnement, which is a specialist in both water and waste, wants to share this adventure with us. They are a major partner with whom we can develop concrete solutions. The time when ONGs and companies denounced and confronted each other is over, and has today given way to reconciliation and common action. Nothing can be done if all the stakeholders do not work together: Explorers discover, scientists conduct experiments, people react, manufacturers innovate, and politicians pass laws. Only by uniting can we find ways to develop and implement efficient solutions. On the occasion of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, there must be a national and international movement for the environment. It is time to UNDERSTAND, EXPLAIN, and ACT.

  • Are you confident about the future?

Of course I am, but we have to change the way we think. By this I mean that, if you aren’t a researcher, it doesn’t mean you can’t make a contribution. We all have a role to play in the war against plastic pollution. I like to think of operations such as those led by Jacques Cousteau, who united scientists and explorers, but also others such as painters and writers. The messages he delivered were thus addressed to a large number of people across different walks of life. Our expeditions tend to unite such actors. This is how we can get in touch with the greatest number of people. And our children are our future. If they are brought up to respect the environment, doing the right thing will become automatic for them and for their children, as opposed to previous generations, who were not educated to think like this. I believe firmly in this.