Annapolis couple studies ocean pollution while sailing around the world

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Matt Rutherford and Nicole Trenholm live and work on a sailboat, traveling the world and conducting scientific research through their nonprofit, Ocean Research Project.

On Wednesday, the boat was on land, getting a cleaning. In June, they will set out on their next adventure-- the Arctic.

The trip is set for June 13, with plans to travel from Annapolis to Greenland, with a few stops along the way.

Once completely north, Rutherford says the route could get choppy.

"It's not charted well," he said.

"Ice will be everywhere," Trenholm said.

Their goal is to collect scientific samples for partner institutions, including the Smithsonian, NASA, the SEA organization and 5 Gyres. They've also partnered with Anne Arundel County Schools' STEM program, where more than 100 students will be assigned to interact with Rutherford and Trenholm while they are at sea.

Rutherford says to advance science research, sometimes people have to go to the edge of the Earth to make a difference. Their goal is to show the scientific community there's a way to collect data affordably, while also being environmentally friendly.

This summer, they'll spend 100 days traveling from Greenland to Baffin Bay. They'll start collecting data as soon as they leave their slip in Annapolis, but the trip will not be cheap.

Trenholm said they have raised 30 percent of what they need. One of the biggest obstacles is getting fresh water while offshore-- Rutherford and Trenholm take turns pumping water by hand every day to generate enough water to drink and use for cooking.

How to help: To donate to the Ocean Research Project, go here.

Rutherford started sailing 10 years ago. He saw it as a way to travel around the world.

In 2012, Rutherford attracted attention for becoming the first person to complete a non-stop, single-handed sail around North America and South America. The voyage took him almost a year, and a documentary about his journey, Red Dot on the Ocean, was released last year. 

He started Ocean Research Project after he returned home.

"It's a romantic idea to many," he said. "But what we do is hard work and it can make a huge difference."

In 2013, Rutherford and Trehnholm surveyed part of the microplastic pollution in the Eastern North Atlantic Gyre. The duo has surveyed 15,000 miles of marine plastic debris of the North Atlantic and North Pacific Gyres. They investigated how much plastic is out there, where the boundaries are, what toxins affect marine life and human health and what bacteria is on the plastics.

"It's depressing," Rutherford said. "You are miles from civilization and yet you can't escape it."

The couple have a lot to do to get their boat ready for the trip north, including more sanding, patching holes and acquiring the rest of the winter gear they will need.

Trentholm hopes their organization will help bring awareness of protecting the ocean.

She says they work hard to promote their cause since it's just the two of them. Rutherford hopes that a growing interest between research institutions and sailboats will grow.

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