Tackling marine plastic pollution: Row For The Ocean take on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

Three women from Devon are taking on the world’s toughest row – the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge . Brought together by a passion for adventure, rowing, and competition they are taking on the biggest challenge of their lives.  They aim to raise awareness of ocean plastics, protect the UK’s beaches and wildlife, and break a world record in the process.

Meet the crew

We are Row For The Ocean – founded by Ros, Kirsty and Kate. In December 2018, we will be rowing 3000 miles across the Atlantic to raise awareness of the ocean plastics crisis. Through our work with Surfers Against Sewage, we are also working to create a Plastic Free Exeter by 2020.

Photo credit: Row For The Ocean

Who is your chosen charity, and why did you pick them?

Integral to the challenge is our partnership with Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) and their Plastic Free Coastlines Campaign, which we are expanding through a Plastic Free Exeter movement. All money raised will also go directly to their Ocean Schools program which educates the next generation on why plastics are harmful and teaches practical ways to reduce plastic consumption.

Marine plastic pollution

What is it and why do we need to act?

The more we delve into the subject of plastic pollution the more shocking it gets, with new stats, images, and videos coming out everyday. It was for this reason we felt we had to do more. By taking on the Atlantic row, we have a unique platform to inspire action for the cause, as well as provide vital funding for SAS Ocean schools. We want the Row for the Ocean campaign to leave a legacy, involving as many communities as possible and make a tangible difference in our home city of Exeter. That’s why we’re aiming to make Exeter one of the first plastic-free cities in the U.K.

It’s estimated that 50% of plastic is used only once and then thrown away. This ‘single-use’ plastic is what we want to target by reducing the use of plastic coffee cups, utensils, takeaway containers, toothbrushes, straws and plastic bottles to name a few.

When was the first time that you realised marine plastic pollution is an issue? 

Although we were aware of the issue, before undertaking the challenge we never fully realised the full extent of the problem.  One video that always sticks in my mind is taken from the Caribbean Sea, near to where we finish in Antigua.  All you could see was rubbish and plastic, and then they dove underneath and it just got worse.  These aren’t scenes that we see in the UK and I think it’s vital that the public know it’s not simply the bottles washing up on the beach that’s the issue. The problem is the 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the sea – image trying to live amongst that like the marine wildlife have to everyday?

PicMonkey CollageSources: Turtle/Seabird

What is it about marine plastic pollution that most shocks you?

How common, yet invisible, it is.  Even a glass of seawater that appears clear could contains thousands of micro-plastics.

What gives you hope that we can resolve the marine plastic pollution crisis?

There have been points where I’ve wondered whether the problem has gone too far, we’re too entrenched in our use of plastic as an everyday item.  But then you read stories of people developing new ways to clean-up the oceans, or companies making wholesale changes to their products or manufacturing and it brings new hope.  We hope that through this challenge we’ll inspire people to make their own small changes – even if that means simply refusing single-use items.

What advice do you have for people who want to help tackle marine plastic pollution? 

If you live in Exeter, join our newsletter and we’ll keep you up to date on local businesses who are making positive changes or events where you can get involved, such as beach cleans.  Or check out Surfers Against Sewage’s website for a wider spread of beach cleans.  We’ve also teamed up with Less Plastic, a company who will come in and audit your businesses plastic use and give you tangible ways to reduce your plastic use.  The simplest changes? Buy a reusable coffee mug, and refuse the straw!

Rowing an ocean: The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge


How is your preparation going for the row? What do you have to do to prepare for a challenge like this?

As we’re going for a world record for fastest women’s crossing, we’ve undertaken an even bigger challenge, and require a strict training programme.  We’ve just received our training programme from our strength and conditioning coach for the next year – 6 days a week in the gym working on the rowing machine, circuits and weights.  We’re also doing rehab sessions to balance our bodies and protect against injuries during the row, this includes having very strong cores to enable us to keep a strong posture against the waves hitting you from all angles.  When we get our boat we will spend a lot of weekends at sea, rowing along the south-coast and intend on going over to the Scilly Isles at the end of May.

What has been the biggest challenge in the preparation for the row?

Sponsorship.  With a target so big this was always going to be one of the hardest parts of the row, getting people involved and businesses interested.  With our Exeter legacy we hope to bring as many local businesses across the Atlantic as possible.  As we get nearer to the start-line our mental health will also play a massive part in the row so we’re working with a sports psychologist to help us deal being at sea for 40-50 days.

Photo credit: Row For The Ocean

What is the most exciting element of your upcoming row?

The unknown! Even with copious amounts of training and preparation, the row itself will always be unexpected in many different ways.  We each know that when we arrive in Antigua we will be changed from those experiences, and that’s a really exciting thought!

How will you document your row?

We’d really like to do a time-lapse of the row and just need to work out the logistics of this.  The race will also be tracked from the Atlantic Campaigns website (this years race can be found here: https://www.taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com/2017racetracker/).  We’ll also have semi-regular updates from the boat with pictures where data and signal allow.

Getting to the start line


How is the fundraising process going?

It going really well, we recently partnered with Winning Attributes founder Mark Rhodes, a world class sailing coach, who has helped massively in pushing the campaign forward and connecting us with sponsors.  We’re always looking to connect with more interested people and businesses to do get in contact if you think you can help us get to the start-line. To see our current partners and sponsors you can visit our website.

Photo credit: Row For The Ocean

How can people support your campaign to row the Atlantic?

Our target is to raise £60,000 for Surfers Against Sewage, however we are also faced with a baseline cost of £100,000 just to get to the start line.  The boat, on-board equipment, on-shore support, insurance (life and boat) etc. all cost money and, without these, our campaign just isn’t possible.

The good news is that a lot of the costs incurred on the boat and equipment will be recouped on re-sale and all proceeds will go to our great charity, so there won’t be a penny wasted. As a non-profit organisation, all money raised over the £60k will either go to help other SAS schemes, or towards events within the local Exeter area to get communities and schools involved.

The best way to help us get to the start-line as an individual is to join our Blue Mile Club (https://www.rowfortheocean.co.uk/shop).  With this you can buy miles across the Atlantic and even get your name on the boat.  We also want people to sign-up to our Plastic Free Exeter newsletter so that we can hit our 2020 target, and look out for our local events such as the 24hr row we just completed in Exeter.

As a business you have the opportunity to join one of our exclusive partner levels.  Our partnership package can be found here: https://www.rowfortheocean.co.uk/copy-of-official-race-partners-2 but we’d love to come and discuss the challenge in person.

Where can people find you?

The best place to start is our website at www.rowfortheocean.co.uk, we’re also on Twitter and Instagram, @rowfortheocean, and Facebook.  You’re also more than welcome to connect with us individually on LinkedIn – Kirsty Barker, Kate Salmon, and Rosalind West.

Tell your friends and family about this challenge and Plastic Free Exeter. There’s no better way to make an impact than to become an active advocate yourself.


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