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6/6/24

Changemaker Spotlight - Sea Change

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Meet Chrissy Durkin and Lorena Nichols, two remarkable members of an all-women team on a groundbreaking mission. Along with four other dedicated women, Chrissy and Lorena will embark on a 2,000-mile non-stop rowing journey around the British coastline. Their expedition isn't just about the physical challenge; it's a crucial scientific endeavor.

Throughout their voyage, the team will collect vital data on biodiversity, microplastics, sound, and ocean temperature. This data will support a University of Portsmouth study aimed at understanding and improving ocean health. Their ultimate goal? To create the most comprehensive overview of the state of British coastal environments and to highlight the inspiring efforts being made to restore and regenerate these ecosystems.

Keep reading to learn more about Chrissy and Lorena, their motivations, and the incredible journey ahead.

1. Preparation Insights: What specific training and preparations have you and your team undertaken to physically and mentally prepare for the grueling demands of the Sea Change 2024 row?

CD - It is unbelievable how much preparation has been required on so many levels - you have to think about physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and the greater purpose. Physically - it is such an endurance challenge - so rather than getting super bulked up, it’s more important to strengthen to keep from getting injured. We have been doing a lot of hours on rowing machines and lean muscle building exercises. But even more than that, I think it’s going to be a mental and emotional game. Between rowing two hours on/two hours off, being in intense conditions, and sharing a truly tiny space for over a month - I truly believe the biggest challenge will be maintaining peace and keeping spirits high. I’m so grateful to have the coolest, most lovely, level-headed teammates. On all of our practice rows, there has been just so much harmony and balance. I’m happy to feel like I’ll be able to lean on others and they can in turn lean on me when the inevitable lows and hard points come. I’m thinking lots of meditation and positive thinking will be imperative to help keep me grounded.

 LN - I have been preparing myself physically by spending hour-long sessions on the indoor rowing machine up to 3 times a week. I took on the ‘Goggins’ challenge adapted for the rowing machine, which was 10k every 4 hours continuously for 48hours.

On the water, apart from getting out in our Rossiter 3 Ocean rowing boat‘Endurance’, I have my own 2 seat rowing boat which is a Hanningfield Skiff andI have last summer/autumn been out for extended sessions up to 27 miles in 5and a half hours.

I have also completed  half marathons in2023 and 2024 as part of my training.

2. Role and Responsibilities: As part of a team with a strong focus on sustainability, could you describe your specific role on the boat? How does your expertise contribute to the team's overall mission?

CD - My day job is developing and implementing biodiversity monitoring technologies -which requires discussing, planning, and building initiatives with everyone from the biggest corporations to the communities on the front lines. It has been an amazing opportunity to see the intersection of storytelling and data -and how the two can come together to bring serious positive change. So it’s awesome to be applying that same theory to the coast of Great Britain.

 LN - As my day job is finance director, I am responsible for the budgeting of our expedition. This means keeping track of funds raised and ensuring we are ableto purchase everything we need in a cost effective and efficient way.

3. Scientific Data Collection: During the Sea Change 2024, your team will be collecting crucial environmental data. Can you explain what types of data you'll be gathering and how this will contribute to the University of Portsmouth's long-term study on ocean health?

CD - Our row is part of the greater GB Row Challenge’s Row with a Purpose program -which came from a desire to pull together the physical challenge with the greater purpose of collecting scientific data. It is expensive and time consuming to collect data from the field - so by combining the row around the entire coastline with collecting environmental data, we are helping to facilitate one of the biggest ocean health data collection efforts. We will be collecting eDNA sample, acoustic data, information on microplastics, and temperature. This is the third year in a row this data will be collected, enabling us to start to see change over time.

Laura Fantuzzi works on this research as part of her PhD in the University ofPortsmouth. The samples and data collected as we row around the UK will help her to shed light on the distribution and spatiotemporal variability of pollution as well as their relationship with biodiversity at the ecosystem level.

This effort, we hope, will contribute to inspiring many more data collection effort sand show how we can truly incorporate science and data into key decision making during the tipping point humanity is presently living through.

 

4. Navigational Challenges: Navigating around the British coastline is complex due to varying tidal flows and weather conditions. Can you share how your team plansto tackle these navigational challenges?

LN - We are each taking on a section of the coastline to fully research the particulars needing to be known there, for support to our Skipper and First mate. We have each done a minimum of Essential Navigation qualifications, most of the crew have Day Skipper theory.

 

CD - The coast of Great Britain has some of the most challenging waters in the world -with strong tides and plenty of storms. Navigation will most certainly be oneof the hardest parts. The trip will consist of constantly checking tides, winds, and weather to route the optimal and safest route. It is no joke! We areso grateful for our team members, Kat and Aoife, for leading the charge on nav!

5. Sustainability in Action: How does participating in an event like the Sea Change2024 reflect and amplify your personal and professional commitments to sustainability? 

LN - I have learned so much already regarding the actions that are being taken for the benefit of our oceans, I hope that I learn much more and can contribute to some of these projects in the future by volunteering maybe?

Professionally,I am enhancing my knowledge all the time, of ways to be more sustainable, and will take this back to my day job when I’m looking at our ESG and corporate sustainability strategies.

 CD - I do a lot of work behind my desk looking for ways to put pieces together to create positive environmental change in the world. But it is a totally different story when you have the opportunity to get out, be in the middle of it all, and put on your boots. I look for ways to try to have the most positive and least negative impact I can in my personal life. From my purchases to whatI eat to how I interact with my environment. But it’s really hard to live in the world we do and not feel a little hopeless or defeated. I’m so excited to give this my all and in return be so inspired by everyone else who are truly fighting for goodness and love. I feel I will walk away from this challenge more energized than ever to play my part in seeking out how I can contribute to healing opportunities for our earth.

  6. Team Dynamics in Extreme Conditions: Rowing 2,000 miles in close quarters with a team under stressful conditions is intense. How do you and your team manage dynamics andmaintain morale during such a challenging journey?

LN - The best thing we can do for each other is be understanding, patient when other are struggling and ensure we communicate effectively as to how we are feeling and if we are finding anything difficult in any way.

We will all have good days and not so good days, days when we feel great but maybe someone else isn’t feeling quite so great, and those days when we are maybe not coping very well at all. We are committed to supporting each other in every way possible and ensuring we finish this epic challenge as friends.

 CD - This is one of the things I’m most excited about - how do we work together most effectively! I think the key is strong communication and remembering that we will all be at different emotional and mental points at different times. We all did personality assessments, and we were pretty intentional about selecting individuals who are doers but also level headed, kind, empathetic, and collaborative. We have the raddest group of women as a result. One thing I get to focus on is being a little more organized in the cabin so my cabin mates come into a tidy and happy space. Little things like that go a long way. Ireally think we will be able to face down any and every challenge as a team and will walk away bonded for life. But I suppose only time will tell! We can report back on our sentiment toward one another upon our return :)


7. Impact of the Journey on Personal Goals: How do you think this unique challenge will impact your personal and professional goals in the field of sustainability?

LN - By making me more aware of the impacts of sustainability, I would hope that I can personally have more impact in my day to day living. I will seek to see how that can become a reality post GB Row Challenge!

8. Technological and Equipment Aspects: What kind of equipment and technology are you using to ensure the safety and success of your row, and to gather the required scientific data?

CD - We have all the safety equipment we need! We have a VHF radio for communications, a satellite phone, we have AIS tracking to show our position to other ships, and PLBs to attach to each of us to track our location in case we fall overboard. We’ve got bungee cords that attach us to the boat via our lifejackets for whenever we are on deck. We’ve even got a life raft (that really isn’t much different in size from our boat itself) in case of emergency. Our beloved vessel, the Endurance, is self-righting in case of capsize as well.

 For the data, we have a temperature and salinity sensor attached to the rudder that is independently collecting data as we row. We have a pump designed by Harwinand Porvair Filtration Group that collects and filters particles out of seawater for understanding the presence of microplastics. Additionally, we have a pump for collecting water samples and filtering out DNA fragments -NatureMetrics will help with analyzing the samples. Lastly, there is a hydrophone attached to the rudder - enabling collection of acoustic data both for understanding noise pollution and vocalizing species.

9. Community and Outreach: How does your team plan to engage with communities and stakeholders to raise awareness and educate others about the importance of ocean health and sustainability?

CD - We have been connecting with restoration projects along the coast, talking to businesses working within the environment, and learning about the incredible work of our partner, Blue Marine Foundation.They have projects all along the coast spanning from kelp recovery to working with fisheries to oyster restoration. It is incredible how much work is being done to recover and restore UK marine environments. We have been telling some of these stories on our Blue Pioneers podcast. We will also be highlighting projects as we make our way around the coast. You can find all of our efforts to raise awareness viastory telling on our website: seachangerow.earth

Our goal is to use this challenge as an opportunity to amplify the voices of all the people who are making positive change for our oceans in so many ways.

 

10. Reflections and Future Steps: Looking beyond the Sea Change 2024, how do you envision applying the insights gained from this experience to future sustainability projects or initiatives?

 CD - I expect our Sea Change journey will bring push us to our limits - showing us how much grit, determination, and focus we all really have. I look forward to particularly applying what I hope I will learn around dedicated effort. When we focus on one objective and put some real energy behind it, it is amazing how far we can go. I find myself splitting time and trying to chase too many ideas at the same time. I think our team, mission, and row will help remind me of the power of focus. I hope to apply this to all other areas of my work and life -seeking out ways for my unique set of skills to be of maximum good to the planet and all the creatures inhabiting it. 

Follow the Sea Change journey:

seachangerow.earth

@seachange_gbrow

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