Microplastics Science with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation

Caroline Gleich & Carolyn Stwertka, Little Cotton Wood Creek, Wasatch Mountains, UT. Photo: Andrew Burr

Microplastics Science with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation

Microplastic particles smaller than 5mm in diameter are found in waters worldwide. Toxins including pesticides attach to these particles, which are then ingested by aquatic life, threatening organisms throughout the food chain and human health. Understanding the distribution and abundance of microplastics in the world’s oceans, lakes, and rivers will inform global conservation decision making and the formation of policies to protect aquatic ecosystems.

In late 2012, Adventurers and Scientists launched the Marine Microplastics project to tackle this pressing environmental issue. The idea was to leverage the skills of the adventure community by motivating outdoor enthusiasts to collect 1 liter water samples from marine  ecosystems around the world.  Adventurers collected samples for the prjoect while sailing across the Atlantic, surfing in the Pacific, and navigating icebergs in the Arctic.

ASC adeventure scientists sampling for microplastics

Jess Newley from July 2015-Coral Atoll Tahanea, French Polynesia. Photo: Chris Newley

ASC adventure scientists sampling microplastics in river

Emmy Luenemann sampling the Tolkat river. Photo: Brian Luenemann

It has become widely acknowledged that microplastics are ubiquitous in the world’s oceans, but their presence in freshwater resources remains less understood. ASC expanded their research efforts in 2015 to include freshwater, forming what is now the Global Microplastics Initiative and opening the door for whitewater kayakers, long distance paddlers, and backpackers to contribute to the project from inland waterways.

John and Louise collecting microplastics while sampling

Gerrit Egnew and Kirra Paulus sampling the Gallatin River in Montana. Photo: Louise Johns

This year, the project has continued to gain momentum by establishing a partnership with the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, where Microplastics Principal Investigator Abby Barrows will begin publishing on the project’s results.

Since the project’s inception, ASC has processed more than 1500 samples from waterways around the world. At the time of my writing, 88% of analyzed samples have contained microplastics plastics. Close to 90% of the contaminated samples contained microfibers likely introduced from the washing of synthetic fabrics, which can shed up to 2,000 particles in a single wash.

ASC adventure science. Filtered samples for counting.

Abby Burrows counting microplastics.

Photos by: Joe Klementovich

Microplastic fibres on filter

Click on a map location to see how many pieces of plastic we found in each ASC sample

Expansion of the project to regions that have not been thoroughly surveyed and deeper into the water column is necessary to determine the reasons behind this trend in the data. ASC is currently recruiting adventurers to collect fresh and saltwater from Australia, New Zealand, India, Southeast Asia and any surrounding areas.

Written by Ryan Rock: Media Coordinator for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation

If you are interested in helping ASC address the threat that microplastics pose to the world’s water supply visit www.adventurescience.org/microplastics-sign-up.html to sign up today.

Sign up now!

Adventure Scientists for Conservation Main Logo

Share your own microplastics related work now. It’s easy! Check out this post to find out how.

Recent Posts

  • Baby loggerhead turtle
    Microplastics are Harming Sea Turtles
    Source: Hillebrand Steve, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wikimedia commons Microplastics are harming sea turtles Microplastics are small plastic particles less than 5mm (~0.2 in) in size....
  • Cooper the Copepod
    Learn about microplastics with Cooper the Copepod
    Photo by: Uwe Kils. Wikimedia Commons Learn about Microplastics with Cooper the Copepod   Hi! I’m Cooper the Copepod. What is a Copepod? Well, I am...
  • ASC adeventure scientists sampling for microplastics
    Microplastics Science with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation
    Caroline Gleich & Carolyn Stwertka, Little Cotton Wood Creek, Wasatch Mountains, UT. Photo: Andrew Burr Microplastics Science with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation Microplastic particles...
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone