Earlier this year, I came across an article posted by Adventure Scientists volunteer Dylan Jones calling for volunteers to participate in the Global Microplastics Initiative in West Virginia. The posted map showed that zero samples had been collected in the Mountain State. I knew I should do something about it. The Birthplace of Rivers and Whitewater Capital of the World needed to be on the map. Becoming a citizen scientist seemed like the right thing to do; I thought it might also help relieve my guilt for losing plastic balers on the Cheat River in the ‘70s.
Armed with supplies and trained in the proper scientific protocol, I headed out to sample Deckers, Cobun, and Dents Run creeks; and the Cheat, Tygart, Middle Fork of the Tygart, and Buckhannon rivers. What I discovered surprised me—the rivers had changed from what I remembered as a raft guide in the ‘70s. The water quality had improved, and fish and other aquatic life had returned to the rivers; the visible improvement a well-earned tribute to the tireless efforts of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the various “Friends of the Rivers” organizations.
There seemed to be fewer pieces of trash along the banks of the rivers that I sampled. Perhaps it was due to recent high water and the trash had disappeared downstream. Whatever the cause, I realized that if there are microplastics, they would flow north to join the Ohio River, before heading south to the mouth of the Mississippi and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico—a body of water that has no mouth and does not flow downstream.
Whatever the results of this study might prove, I am glad that I was able to make a contribution and let go of a portion of my raft guide guilt. It has made me become—and hopefully, can make all of us become—far more aware of our plastic usage in the modern world.