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National Geographic’s Female-Led Team Returns to Bangladesh and India for the ‘Sea to Source: Ganges’ Post-Monsoon Expedition

The second phase of the "Sea to Source: Ganges" expedition will track differences and similarities in plastic pollution activity following the monsoon season. 

Part of the global ‘Planet or Plastic?’ initiative, phase two of the Ganges river expedition will focus on informing and identifying solutions to help tackle the global plastic crisis

In late October, a team of scientists and engineers, co-led by National Geographic Fellows Jenna Jambeck and Heather Koldewey, began a two-month long expedition, traveling the full 2,575 kilometers (1,600 miles) of the mainstream Ganges river — from the Bay of Bengal to the river’s source in the Himalayas. The expedition is the second phase of National Geographic’s Sea to Source expedition along the Ganges river in Bangladesh and India. The expedition will track differences and similarities in plastic pollution activity following monsoon season in this iconic river system. 

The “Sea to Source: Ganges” river expedition aims to mobilize a global community of experts to help tackle the global problem of plastic pollution. During the expedition, the team will measure post-monsoon plastic pollution levels in the river and surrounding communities, and will conduct interviews and solution workshops at each site. Using the data they collect, the team will work with local and national partners to inform solutions, fill knowledge gaps, and help drive a long-term positive change.  The expedition, in partnership with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the Indian Institute of Technology, the University of Dhaka, Wild Team, and the Isabela Foundation will also focus on documenting how plastic waste travels from source to sea and filling the critical knowledge gaps around plastic flow, load, and composition. The initiative is also supported by Tata Trusts in India.

“Ocean plastic pollution is a global crisis. Every year, about 9 million metric tons of plastic are added, with rivers acting as major conveyor belts that move plastic debris into the ocean,” said Heather Koldewey, National Geographic Fellow, Explorer and scientific co-lead of the “Sea to Source: Ganges” expedition. “Our focus on this expedition is to understand how people and plastic connect with the Ganges river and ultimately the ocean, using our data to raise awareness and identify solutions.”

The first phase of the river expedition took place in May-July of this year. During the expedition, the team conducted nine community workshops on solutions to plastic waste, interviewed more than 250 individuals about their perceptions and use of plastic, took more than 300 environmental samples, and documented more than 56,000 pieces of debris using the Marine Debris Tracker app. They also released 3,000 biodegradable wooden ‘drift cards’ and 10 plastic ‘bottle tags’ to track the movement of plastic waste using community engagement both on land and in waterways.

The team plans to share its expedition experiences in real-time. Follow along at NatGeo.org/plastic or on social media with the hashtag #ExpeditionPlastic Twitter and Instagram. To support Planet or Plastic?, take the pledge today to reduce single-use plastic at natgeo.com/plasticpledge.

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