Credit Randy Olson

About nine million tons of plastic waste are believed to reach the world’s oceans every year, and the aim of this expedition is to document plastic in the Ganges and help develop solutions. Image courtesy of Randy Olson 

Exeter experts join Ganges plastic pollution mission

Two University of Exeter scientists will be part of an international team studying plastic pollution in the River Ganges.

Dr Emily Duncan and Sarah Nelms will join an all-female expedition for National Geographic’s “Sea to Source: Ganges” project in the iconic river that flows through India and Bangladesh.

About nine million tons of plastic waste are believed to reach the world’s oceans every year, and the aim of this expedition is to document plastic in the Ganges and help develop solutions.

The “Sea to Source: Ganges” expedition is the first of several international river expeditions planned as part of National Geographic’s Planet or Plastic? initiative, which aims to significantly reduce the amount of single-use plastic that reaches the ocean.

“It’s really exciting to be a part of such an ambitious project,” said Nelms.

“Plastic pollution is a hugely complicated issue and solving it requires collaboration across a range of disciplines and sectors.

“Here we hope to piece together the different aspects of plastic pollution so that solutions can be developed.”

Dr Duncan said: “I am looking forward to being part of a team of diverse expertise on this issue and working alongside partner organisations across India and Bangladesh.

“This project will aid us in the understanding of complex inputs of plastic pollution into our aquatic and marine ecosystems.”

After an initial expedition to the Ganges this spring, the team will return after the monsoon season to capture seasonal variations.

“National Geographic is deeply committed to advancing solutions to the plastic waste crisis,” said Valerie Craig, vice president of operating programmes at the National Geographic Society. 

“These expeditions are a tremendous opportunity to mobilise a global community of experts to help tackle the problem.

“I’m particularly delighted that this expedition elevates women in science, technology, engineering and math around the world to help us understand how plastic moves through our waterways, and ultimately to find ways to prevent plastic waste from entering the ocean.”

The “Sea to Source: Ganges” expedition will focus on plastic pollution in three key areas:

-          A team working on the land will collect data about the input and use of plastic in communities, how waste is collected and managed, and will quantify the movement and types of plastic in the environment.

-          A water team will study plastic pollution in the air, water, sediment and species in and around the river.

-          A socioeconomic team will survey local communities along the expedition route to better understand awareness and perceptions of plastic pollution, household plastic waste management and local solutions for addressing this issue.

The expedition aims to translate scientific findings using storytelling to raise awareness about plastic pollution and drive behaviour change.

The team will share its experiences at NatGeo.org/plastic and on social media with #ExpeditionPlastic.

The expedition is organised in partnership with the Wildlife Institute of India, the University of Dhaka and WildTeam.

Date: 3 May 2019

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