UW grad rowing 2,400 miles to Hawaii in the name of climate change

Eliza Dawson

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. -- A recent University of Washington graduate and member of the rowing team is now preparing for a much longer race -- to Hawaii!

Growing up in Port Townsend, water has shaped Eliza Dawson's life in many ways.

"That really developed a passion for the ocean and being on the water," she said.

First, it led her to the rowing team at UW, then the ocean guided her in the classroom, graduating with a degree in atmospheric sciences just days ago.

But before starting her Ph.D. in the fall, she now turns her attention to combining these passions.

"This June, I'm planning to row 2,400 miles across the Pacific from California to Hawaii," she said.

She and three other rowers from the United Kingdom will make the trip in their 24-foot boat in the name of climate change. The crew will be rowing around the clock in two-hour shifts.

The boat will be 100 percent human powered, and carry a water maker to desalinate the water. There's room for about a month's worth of food (still, Dawson says each rower expects to each lose about 19 pounds) but a bathroom? No such luck. Just a bucket.

"I'm really excited about this adventure because I'm both an avid athlete and a young aspiring scientist, and I care a lot about our future," she said.

She trains four hours a day, and in the rest of her time, tries to raise the $14,000 she still needs to buy enough supplies for such a long time at sea.

MORE | Eliza's GoFundMe Page | Row4Climate Info

"I will be spending more than a month at the interface of the ocean and the atmosphere, and that's a really special place," she said.

Studying the Ocean's Version Of A Landfill

Beyond trying to break the record of 50 days for an all female crew, she looks forward to collecting data that will help in her future studies, including plastics in the water. Part of her journey will take her into what's known as the "Pacific Garbage Patch" -- an area of the ocean in the Eastern Pacific between where the easterly trade winds end and the Pacific Westerly winds begin. In between, is a massive, slowly rotating mass of water more than twice the size of Texas that holds all trash and debris carried into the region from the trade winds.

"Undulating white blobs resembling jellyfish, turn out to be plastic bags," Dawson wrote on her blog detailing the upcoming journey. "Illusive white specs resembling plankton turn out to be microplastics, broken down over time by the sun, wind, and sea."

In some spots, the trash extends down 9 feet deep!

"Plastic doesn’t decompose. Instead, it photo-degrades, meaning sunlight and water break it down into smaller and smaller pieces, causing it to finally become a plastic soup," she wrote. "The organisms responsible for breaking down organic compounds do not recognize the unnaturally strong carbon-carbon bonds used in the processing of plastic to make it sturdy, and therefore cannot break these compounds down. In some places, there is 40 times more plastic than plankton in the water. Plastic debris in the ocean affects more than 260 species of marine animals."

She adds many animals suffer from entanglement and strangulation from plastic debris.

"It's a very special opportunity to witness plastic pollution in the ocean and literally be rowing through it," she said.

Dawson has always had a connection with the ocean, and now she's waiting to see where it will take her next.

"As a young scientist, I am the future in climate, and I really hope this row can spread awareness and spread the message that it's time for political action now."

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