Wildlife & Wild Places

There’s Something in the Water

Gregg Treinish and his team at Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation bring us stories from around the world about adventuring with purpose. Gregg often leads various projects himself, which run the gamut from leading wilderness expeditions and environmental sampling to photojournalism—all to aid research and conservation.

Dane Stevens stand-up paddleboarding in Acadia National Park, Maine (Photo by Emily Stifler Wolfe)

Although smaller than five millimeters in size, microplastic particles contaminating our oceans and rivers likely pose a massive environmental and human health risk.

During 2014, my organization Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation engaged ocean goers from 15 countries to collect seawater from every ocean to study microplastic pollution.

Working with marine researcher Abby Barrows, we found a shocking 90 percent of these samples were contaminated with microplastic debris. One contained 450 pieces in a single liter of water, and the average across all samples was 17 particles per liter.

Watch an ASC video set in spectacular coastal Maine to learn more from marine researcher Abby Barrows:


Microplastic particles attract toxins, including DDT, BPA and pesticides, which adhere to them. Ingested by small aquatic life, the plastics biomagnify as they move up the food chain, where the toxins accumulate in larger birds, sea life and humans. Microplastics have several sources: They weather from larger debris like drink bottles, commercial fishing gear or shopping bags; they’re laundered from nylon clothing; and they wash down the drain with many common cosmetics and toothpastes.

However, because microplastic is often invisible to the naked eye, it has been overlooked as a threat to aquatic ecosystems and human health.

Acadia National Park, Maine. (Photo by Emily Stifler Wolfe)

ASC is recruiting and training outdoor enthusiasts to gather the samples, providing sampling equipment, conducting targeted river sampling, supporting sample analysis, and developing a media/legislative campaign publicizing our findings. This adventure-science approach to data collection allows us to collect samples from remote and difficult-to-reach areas on a very large scale.

While we will continue our sampling efforts throughout the marine environment, growing our understanding of where and how microplastics enter the environment river systems is the next frontier.

Sunset over the Penobscott Bay and the Camden Hills, Maine (Photo by Emily Stifler Wolfe)
Sunset over the Penobscott Bay and the Camden Hills, Maine. (Photo by Emily Stifler Wolfe)

In 2015, we will continue our marine study, while also beginning phase two of the project, in which we will expand upstream in an effort to better understand the sources of microplastics contamination. Our work will help scientists, policy makers and the public better understand this pernicious form of pollution in order to make better decisions.

Are you a surfer, kayaker, swimmer, angler, hiker, sailor or paddleboarder? We’d love to have you get involved with this project!

Learn more and get involved with ASC’s microplastics project on our website, our Field Notes blog, and by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+.

Read More by Gregg Treinish and His Correspondents

Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists in 2011 with a strong passion for both scientific discovery and exploration.National Geographic named Gregg Adventurer of the Year in 2008 when he and a friend completed a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes Mountain Range. He was included on the Christian Science Monitor's 30 under 30 list in 2012, and the following year became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work with Adventure Scientists. In 2013, he was named a Backpacker Magazine "hero", in 2015, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and one of Men's Journal's "50 Most Adventurous Men." In 2017, he was named an Ashoka Fellow.Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004.

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Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

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