More Than Meets the Eye: Contribute to the World’s Largest Microplastics Dataset

Kt Miller taking a microplastics water sample in the Julian Alps. (Photo by Enrico Mosetti)

Jenna Walenga, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation’s Microplastics Program Manager, is currently recruiting for our Microplastics project. This is an emerging global issue, and by growing and mobilizing our incredible network of outdoor adventurers, we plan to tackle it head-on. We are currently compiling the largest microplastics data set ever collected. Jenna’s call-to-action: 

By now, you may be familiar with microplastics and the damage they are doing to our oceans. We have found these harmful tiny plastic particles suspended throughout the water column, from samples taken five meters below the surface in the South Pacific waters of Palau, to the Antarctic Peninsula. As we continue to study samples from our volunteers around the globe, it is rare to find water that is microplastic free.

The United Nations has taken notice of the issue, calling microplastics an “urgent” problem and describing their marine presence as “an emerging issue of international concern.”

So what is the next step? At ASC, we’re looking upstream, examining freshwater lakes and rivers worldwide. Volunteers can send samples from any body of water they encounter on their explorations. We’re recruiting backpackers, climbers, bikers, kayakers and other water lovers worldwide.

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ASC adventurer Trent Banks samples in the Spanish Peaks, Montana. (Photo by Jenna Walenga)

Our preliminary freshwater samples show that some of the most pristine mountain waters carry microplastics in their currents. Even there, this element that seems so pure and wild isn’t immune to the impacts of human pollution. Samples collected from the headwaters of the Missouri River in Montana have all contained a variety of microplastic particles. These particles will make their way down to the Mississippi River and, eventually, into the Gulf of Mexico.

ASC has also had over 600 adventurers collect marine microplastics samples. Here is Jessica Newley, last month during her expedition’s 34 day passage from Mexico to the Marquesas islands in French Polynesia. This sample was taken as they passed the equator going 7 knots! (Photo courtesy of Jessica Newley)

We need your help to further explore and understand this problem. Help us build a complete picture of this threat to the waterways of our world, in both freshwater and marine environments. Wherever you may travel, from alpine lakes and canyon-carving rivers to tropical shores, you can contribute to building the largest data set on microplastics.

This data will become a sword in the fight against plastic pollution. The information will be used to inform consumer choice, support legislative action and influence corporate responsibility, ultimately reducing plastic contamination.

Taking a serious look at microplastics on a grand scale and determining where the particles enter our waterways is crucial to shutting off this pollution at the source. The journey may be long, but it starts with you.

Sign up to collect samples for microplastics in the waters that you love.

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Meet the Author
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 and in 2018 one of the Grist 50 "Fixers." Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004. Read more updates from Gregg and others on the Adventure Scientists team at Follow Adventure Scientists on Instagram @adventurescientists, on Facebook @adventurescientists, and on Twitter @AdvScientists.