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Ocean microplastics - All-female ocean rowing team embarks on 2,000 mile challenge around Great Britain

Team Ithaca L-R: Emma Wolstenholme, Amy L Wood, Clair Fennessy, Sandra Gates, Maggie Hodge and Emma Haxell

Revolution Plastics Institute

4 min read Partner content

A team of female ocean rowers will set off on a 2,000 mile rowing challenge around the entire coast of Great Britain on Sunday 4 June, and they’re aiming for a world record.

The crew of six includes a cyber security expert, an Army nurse, a mountaineer, a former international rugby player, a fitness instructor and an RAF Air Cadets ambassador. 

They’ll be competing in the GB Row Challenge, a sporting event with a powerful sustainable purpose: the rowers collaborate with scientists from the University of Portsmouth to collect data on microplastics, temperature, noise pollution, and biodiversity. 

Team Ithaca’ will navigate complex tidal streams, shipping lanes and volatile weather to row in the world’s toughest rowing race.

Crew member and cyber security expert Amy Wood is no stranger to sport and adventure. She rowed the Atlantic at the age of 25, has represented England at karate and competed internationally in gymnastics. 

Amy currently works hard to ensure that planes are safe and secure from cyber threat attacks. She also played a part in establishing the UK as Europe’s first launch site to send satellites into orbit.

She said: “The GB Row Challenge is the icing on an already pretty incredible sporting career cake for me and I can’t wait to take it on! Much of my work life is focussed on aircraft, so I’m looking forward to spending some time on the water for a change.

“What makes this challenge so worthwhile is the wider purpose, which is more than just rowing. The data we collect on the way around will help scientists understand how our seas are changing and enhance our understanding of the many challenges facing British coastal waters.”

Skipper Emma Wolstenholme and three of the crew rowing during one of their training sessions

Skipper Emma Wolstenholme and three of the crew rowing during one of their training sessions

The team has completed over 200 hours of ocean rowing to prepare for the event, which sets off from Tower Bridge, London, at 3pm on Sunday 4 June.

They’ll be rowing continuously and unsupported, taking turns to row for two hours on and two hours off. They’re aiming to finish the row within 50 days or less. If successful, they will break the world record becoming the first team of six to have ever completed the feat. 

The team has also been trained to use specialist equipment to gather scientific data.

Dr Fay Couceiro, expert in biogeochemistry and environmental pollution at the University of Portsmouth, said: “Ocean pollution is one of the biggest challenges of our generation. The data collected by last year’s teams found that microplastic pollution was up to 100 times worse than previously recorded but what is really valuable is to see how fast the problem is changing.

“This unique collaboration between GB Row Challenge and the University aims to produce an annual map of ocean pollution and biodiversity, which will give a great baseline for the entire UK and show any changes happening year on year. This data will give a clearer picture of the environmental damage and long term impact of these pollutants on our seas.”

Ocean pollution is one of the biggest challenges of our generation. The data collected by GB Row Challenge will greatly enhance our understanding of conditions in the seas around the UK.

Dr Fay Couceiro, Reader in Biogeochemistry and Environmental Pollution

Jim Bastin, GB Row Challenge Director of Operations, has been working hard to ensure the team have the best possible chance of successfully and safely circumnavigating Great Britain in a rowing boat.

He said: “Team Ithaca is a fantastic group of ordinary people taking on an extraordinary challenge. They are a determined team who came together last year because they are passionate about adventure, but also about the environment.”

Jim was part of a rowing team that completed the challenge in 2005 setting a world record by completing it unsupported in 26 days 21 hours and 14 minutes.

He added: “Our entry lists are open for 2024, 2025 and 2026, so please get in touch if you want to take on an epic row across the English Channel, Celtic Sea, Irish Sea, the Western Isles, North Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, and the Thames Estuary. 

“This challenge is not for the fainthearted. We’re looking for people with a spirit of adventure and a love of the ocean. Having completed it back in 2005, I can certainly vouch for it being the world’s toughest rowing race, but it’s a hugely rewarding challenge.

“Crossing the Atlantic might be a 3,000 mile row, but the GB Row Challenge is a much more technically complex and challenging event, requiring good navigational ability to negotiate complex tidal streams, very variable weather systems and a challenging, but spectacular coastline.

“And unlike the Atlantic, it’s an event that not many teams have completed. It’s the rowing equivalent of climbing K2 instead of Everest. If you think you have what it takes please get in touch.”

To find out more about competing, please visit www.gbrowchallenge.com

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