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

By Jenna Walenga
ASC Microplastics Program Manager

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.

PictureASC program coordinator Colleen Ferris gathers samples in Moab, Utah.

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.

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. 

Learn more about Microplastics and other ASC projects on our website, the Field Notes blog, and by following us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Google+.