Interview With Ocean Conservation Nonprofit Rozalia Project

Posted August 26, 2021

We are excited to learn more from Ashley Sullivan, the Executive Director of the Rozalia Project. The Rozalia Project is on a mission to clean and protect our oceans from surface to seafloor, and one of their main targets is marine debris. Non-biodegradable debris in the water is a documented hazard to marine life and humans. 80% of marine debris is coming from land and if we don’t act, there will be more trash in the ocean by 2050.

How was the Rozalia Project created?  What is the mission?

"Rozalia Project was born in 2009 when Rachael Miller and her husband James Lyne adventured out to the remote island of Matinicus off the coast of Maine for a vacation. Before they arrived, a strong nor'easter had just pummeled the coast and Rachael spent much of their first few days on the island picking up ocean trash from the rocky shore in front of their cottage.  As a lifelong sailor and ocean lover, marine debris has always been something that really bothered Rachael and, at that moment, she thought now is the perfect time to do something about it!  Rozalia Project’s mission is to conserve and protect a healthy, thriving marine ecosystem. For the past 11 years, we have been tackling the problem of marine debris through multiple angles including, cleanups, education, embracing technology, and working on solution-based research."

Tell us about American Promise, specifically how you’re using technology to reduce or eliminate shore power.

American Promise Ocean Conservation Vessel

"American Promise was designed by Ted Hood, made famous by Dodge Morgan’s solo round the world voyage, and then used as an offshore sail training vessel for the United States Naval Academy. This boat acts as the Rozalia Project’s mothership during our work addressing issues that affect ocean health in New England’s coastal waters and beyond."

"American Promise gives the Rozalia Project the ability to operate far from shore for extended periods of time. One of the biggest benefits of AP is the ability to have guests and interns join us on our missions and work side by side with scientists to further ocean health through action and research."

"We are working toward making American Promise the greenest sailing vessel in the world. In 2015, thanks to a grant from 11th Hour racing, help from DuoGen, and work by the Maine Yacht Center, we installed solar, wind, and hydropower to charge our house bank working toward getting rid of our diesel generator completely. As of the end of 2019, we have sailed over 5 full expeditions seasons without using the generator or plugging into shore power. 100% of our energy has come from a combination of solar, wind, and hydropower or from the alternator while motoring between sails. In 2020, thanks to a donation from RELiON Battery, American Promise now has a completely new setup of innovative Lithium batteries to store all our energy!"

Can you walk us through your new battery system that includes RELiON lithium?

"Rozalia Project was in the market for new batteries as our AGM batteries aboard American Promise were almost dead/at the end of their life. We had written a small grant to assist with this change but had never really considered lithium until we were contacted by RELiON through our 1% for the Planet Partnership. Batteries are the most important thing on our boat apart from sails as we need the power to keep us safe. What we learned from our new partners at RELiON was that we could indeed use lithium marine batteries aboard and there were many benefits. LiFePO4 marine batteries last longer than AGM (lithium has a HUGE life cycle). Lithium batteries can discharge up to 100% and will maintain a strong charge until its completely drained. They can’t overcharge  (the battery has a BMS system that prevents that from happening). Lithium marine batteries are safe- these batteries use the safest chemistry compound which is lithium iron phosphate. They are expensive but are worth it because they will last a long time (up to 25 years) therefore resulting in a lower environmental impact."

"RELiON donated two RB300 batteries to repower American Promise and they covered the cost of the installation by the folks at Maine Yacht Center. We went from 2 battery banks to one and installed a marine battery monitor. This will enable us to see how much power is coming into the batteries from our wind generator, solar panels, and hydro-generator while promoting how much energy we are consuming as well."

Why did Rozalia Project join 1% for the Planet? What have you experienced as a result of your membership?

"Rozalia Project joined 1% for the Planet to surround ourselves with NGOs, businesses, and individuals who are working to positively impact our watery world by putting the planet before profits. Through our partnerships, we have gone beyond transactional relationships to learn, educate, inspire and create TOGETHER. Sure the money is helpful for us to continue our work but what we have gained is way beyond just that. We love our corporate partners and thrive as an organization because of them."

What is the Cora Ball and how did the product come to fruition?

"The Cora Ball is the world's first microfiber catching laundry ball! We invented it after we learned about the problem of microfiber pollution in our waterways back in 2014. Our clothes and other textiles are shedding microscopic fibers and they are floating in our water and in our air.  Aquatic organisms throughout the food chain consume microplastics and microfibers both directly and indirectly. Within the food chain, these particles have been found to cause physical and chemical impacts, resulting in starvation and reproductive consequences in species. Microplastics and microfibers have also been found in marine species directly consumed by humans, the effects of which are yet unknown. They have also been found in abiotic products like sea salt, honey, and beer.  With funding from Schmidt Technology for research and development, Rozalia Project got to work designing and testing, our first prototype looks very different from the one we finally settled on. In the final version now known as Cora ball, the stalks of the ball are like coral stocks. We were looking to nature for inspiration, and we found it!"

What is the most challenging part of trying to clean and protect the ocean, and what is the most rewarding?

Rozalia Project Ocean Clean Up Team

"The problem of marine debris can feel very overwhelming at times. Even more so when you visit the same remote places year after year and the trash just keeps washing up. The good news is that we have seen significant changes in the past 5 years from overall awareness of the problem to positive policy changes like plastic bag bans and innovative solutions and redesigns to make products more sustainable.  I love inspiring action in people so when you see that connection happens in a young learner or an older person, I know that we are making a difference.  At Rozalia Project, we always say that “lots of littles make a big.” By picking up one single-use water bottle you are potentially keeping that bottle from breaking up into 39,000 microplastics.  In our oceans, that really adds up to a BIG impact."

The global pandemic created many challenges for nonprofits and businesses, how did it affect Rozalia, and what are some ways you had to change as a result?

"Most of our work up until the pandemic was in person. We LOVE working with people and getting our hands salty, sandy, and muddy! Our expeditions, education programs, traveling to conferences to share our work, and our cleanups came to a screeching halt. We were forced to not launch our sailing research vessel in 2020 and in 2021. Last summer was a bit challenging as we tried to navigate our new normal. Rozalia Project joined zoom and went virtual with all our programming just like the rest of the world. One positive unintended consequence has been our ability to reach people from all over the world to continue sharing what we know about marine debris and how to inspire people to seek solutions. When we made the decision to not launch in 2021, we quickly pivoted to in-person education programming by launching STEM for Healthier Waterways 2021: Exploring Vermont’s Rivers, Lakes, and Marine Debris. We have spent the summer inspiring young learners from all over the Lake Champlain watershed to protect our public waterways through learning about marine debris, microplastics, how plastics are becoming bio-available in our food chain, and why that matters. This pandemic has taught us that humans are extremely capable of changing their behavior and solving complicated problems when it matters most, a global pandemic. We have seen how effective it can be and now we must use similar bold action to tackle other BIG problems like climate change and ocean health!"

What are Rozalia Project’s goals for the next year? Where do you see the organization in 5 years?

"We are so looking forward to our 2022 launch of American Promise and getting back on the water! We have 3 expeditions fully funded so far from remote island cleanups, education programs, and onboard educational corporate expeditions. Rozalia Project is uniquely positioned right now to begin to build capacity for our organization so that we can have an even greater impact. Rozalia Project is looking to grow our use of American Promise to a year-round operation with the boat traveling to the Southern Atlantic Ocean from Maine and back again every year.  This flagship carries a message of optimism that the collective WE created this problem and the collective WE can solve it!"

What are some simple things people can do to reduce their negative impact or to have a positive impact on our oceans?

  1. Use a reusable water bottle & coffee/tea mug
  2. Use reusable shopping bags
  3. Skip the straw
  4. Bring your own utensils
  5. Rethink balloons
  6. Reduce packaging by buying in bulk
  7. Use a Cora ball
  8. Participate in local cleanups
  9. Share what you know
  10. Vote the ocean with your wallet and with your vote
Rozalia Project Ocean Conservation Team

RELiON is honored to support such an amazing organization. Every RELiON team member has a Cora Ball and we are constantly learning about new ways to protect our oceans.

Visit our product page if you would like to learn more about the lithium deep cycle marine batteries installed in American Promise and to learn more about our other nonprofit partners check out our activism page.