After Matt Rutherford finished his record-breaking, solo circumnavigation of the Americas, he knew sailing was his passion. He was determined to find a way to use this passion to give something back to the Ocean. In 2012, Matt founded Ocean Research Project (ORP), a nonprofit organization based out of Annapolis, Maryland. Since its foundation ORP has been dedicated to reversing humanity’s negative impact on the ocean through science, exploration and education.
During his trip around the Americas, Matt often pulled two fishing lines behind the sailboat in hopes of supplementing his dwindling food supply. But he was surprised to find that he caught far more plastic trash with his lines than fish. After seeing how widespread plastic trash was in the Ocean, Matt decided that marine debris was the first issue ORP would take on. The organization was committed to increasing the understanding of pollution in the ocean caused primarily by plastic and microplastic debris.
Shortly after ORP was founded, Matt was able to acquire a steel schooner, the R/V Ault, for research expeditions. During the Ault’s extensive refit, Nicole Trenholm, an experienced mariner and marine scientist, joined ORP to help develop the science and education objectives of each expedition. In 2013, Matt and Nicole set off on ORP’s first research expedition; they spent 70 days sailing in the Atlantic Ocean collecting samples of plastic debris and mapping out the eastern side of the North Atlantic garbage patch. The following year, ORP extended its marine debris research to the Pacific Ocean.
ORP has sailed over 25,000 miles so far in the pursuit of marine research and this is only the beginning. Today, ORP is working harder than ever, in close coordination with scientists, to develop new research expeditions that can be done with sailboats anywhere in the world. The technologies needed to do this important research have been refined to the point where large, expensive research vessels are no longer necessary for many scientific projects. A traditional ocean research vessel can cost as much as $25,000 a day to operate, while a sailboat research vessel has a much smaller footprint and can operate at a tiny fraction of that cost. ORP believes sailboats will be the research vessels of the future, and its vision is to create a global network of research-ready sailboats to support marine science.
Ultimately, the information acquired through this research must be disseminated to the public at large. ORP is working hard to increase public awareness by incorporating educational initiatives and citizen science programs into its mission. The educational arm of ORP is essential to changing human behavior, such as the abundance of single-use plastics in our daily lives, while working to monitor the negative impacts that society is having on the world’s oceans and fostering a thriving marine environment.