It began in 2012 with a chance meeting at a National Geographic Young Explorer Grant workshop at Cornell University. Gordon Middleton, Christian Shaw and Celine Jennison sat at a table together and brainstormed using sups to raise awareness about plastic pollution. Barely a year later, with their pre-application for the grant accepted, their project came to life.
“What began as a desire to combine a passion for watersports and adventure with research and conservation became Plastic Tides,” says Shaw, who helped form the non-profit Plastic Tides to raise awareness about plastic in the ocean. “We’re combining adventure along with science to address the serious problem of single-use plastics.”
Last spring, despite not ultimately winning the Young Explorer grant, they spent 10 days on sups anyway circumnavigating Bermuda. En route they filmed, blogged and collected water samples, all to help rid oceans of plastic. Riding that momentum, they formed Plastic Tides to continue the cause.
“The problem is that plastic is everywhere and is used everyday,” he says. “We’re trying to promote awareness to lessen its use because most of the time it ends up in the sea. We’re using paddleboards to make a valuable contribution to the growing body of research surrounding marine debris.”
Most recently, they’ve set their sights on the cosmetic industry’s use of plastic micro-beads in their home state of New York, where a bill banning them has been stalled by the State Senate. To raise awareness about these pollutants, this time they paddleboarded the Erie Canal. While the original plan called for paddling 240 miles from Ithaca to Albany, collecting samples to be analyzed by Dr. Sam Mason at Fredonia’s State University of New York (SUNY), inclement weather and impassable ice cut their trip short by 60 miles, just east of Little Falls, N.Y. But not before word spread about their trip and not before they collected the necessary water samples by towing trawls behind their boards.
In December, they visited SUNY’s Great Lakes Plastic Pollution Lab to analyze their samples from the first-ever micro-bead survey conducted of the Finger Lakes region. The results were sobering, with micro-beads found in Cayuga Lake, Oneida Lake, the Erie Canal and the Mohawk River. “All this indigestible plastic waste works it way up the food chain and washes ashore on beaches around the world, resembles dinner for many organisms,” says Shaw. “We’re using stand-up paddleboards to help expose the problem.”
Video of Erie Canal Expedition documentary: CLICK HERE