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.
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.
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.
Photos by: Joe Klementovich
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.