The Nature Bible

New Frontiers

Invention · Travel

Changing Tack






On 31st January 2021, 81 year old Australian yachtsman Jon Sanders arrived in Western Australia's Freemantle harbour, becoming the oldest person to sail single-handedly around the world. No stranger to world records (he already holds 12, as well as honours including an OBE from the Queen and an Order of Australia) this voyage was different, not just because of his age but because at the same time he was raising awareness about plastic pollution.


This was Jon's 11th successful solo global navigation and after decades of witnessing first-hand, the accumulation of plastic in the sea he decided to take action whilst completing his latest feat. "As someone who has spent more than 60 years traversing and enjoying the world's oceans, I could not sit idly by and watch that same environment be choked to death with plastic waste," he said and his mission attracted sponsorship form the founders of the Minderoo Foundation, which established the 'Sea the Future' initiative to encourage the safer disposal of plastics.


During this latest 15-month circumnavigation, tagged #NoPlasticWaste (extended by 7 months from the original 8 month planned itinerary because of COVID lockdowns, which also blew him into the path of massive storms with mountainous waves and left him with cracked ribs and no electronics), Jon spent an hour a day collecting and filtering 100litres of seawater through a hole drilled in the hull of his 39ft yacht, via a specially designed pump. These hundreds of samples, which he collected from across the Indian, Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans were sent off to Curtin University in Western Australia where it is hoped they will help researchers to build up a picture of plastic pollution in our oceans.


Already, researchers there have found microplastics in each one of Jon's samples with the highest levels in two taken 600km off the coast of Brazil which contained 3 times more plastic than those from the Indian Ocean. Professor Kliti Grice said, "These results help to build a more detailed picture of plastic pollution across the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere and ultimately, Jon's voyage will provide a unique record of microplastics throughout a significant area of the globe."


Minderoo Foundation Chairman Dr. Andrew Forrest who welcomed Jon home, described him as "extraordinary" and said, "We are immensely grateful for his herculean efforts, which have helped to increase awareness and scientific evidence of the impact plastic waste is having on our oceans, and ourselves."


You can read more about the #No Plastic Waste campaign Here and Minderoo's 'Sea the Future' initiative Here .