Two bright clear days. Two groups of Riverguides. An audience of community members. Three rowboats in the fleet, a new one ready for launch, and a busy, welcoming river. On June 14th and 15th, all our work over the past months practicing rowing, exploring the river, and learning about different parts of its ecosystem all came down to those elements. This was the biggest challenge we gave the Riverguides this whole year, their culminating event: take these great days, the boats, the river, and all together as a team provide a meaningful experience for an audience out on the river.
Over the course of two days, nearly 60 people experienced the Delaware River from a rowboat led by the Riverguides. They rocked in gentle waves and gripped oars for the first time to try their hands (and arms and core!) at rowing. They dragged nets in the water, and through microscopes saw the whole plankton ecosystem that supports life in the river. For the first time, they saw in the same water samples the microplastic pollution next to the living plankton, a reminder that humans influence and change the Delaware River at even the smallest levels – not always for the better. Many who were unaware that freshwater mussels even existed now held their shells and living examples as evidence, learning how these animals help filter pollutants and sediment out of the water to keep it clean. Our passengers remarked how new this was for them and how it changed their perspective of the river. In a sense, they all began to see the Delaware River the way the Riverguides already see it and know it to be: a valuable place with lots of life and beauty, a place for adventure, and environment that needs to be cleaned and protected.
This May is a busy one for the Riverguides, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. With the public docks and boat-launches now open for the season, we are back on the river! Each day, we’re getting more familiar with the boats and the different conditions the river can throw at us. We’ve recently been practicing rowing against currents, building our teamwork skills for rowing all together, and re-learning our boat-handling skills. By the end of May, we expect to be routinely taking samples from the river and collecting data on all of them for our plastic pollution investigations.
This weekend the Riverguides went for a weekend-long kayaking and camping trip with the Poconos Environmental Education Center in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area! There, they got to learn about a completely different and unfamiliar section of the same Delaware River, and compare it to the one they already know.
Finally, we have a giant shout out to the 4 winners of Tookany-Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership’s (TTF) annual Youth Champions Award – our very own Casey Harkins, Julisa Pantojas, Cashmere Williams, and Jason Herndon! Casey, Cashmere, and Jason all contributed to PWBF’s work with TTF teaching the public about stormwater management issues in Philadelphia, and helped Frankford High School establish a compost on school grounds to minimize food trash going into the school’s waste stream. Julisa is being honored for her enthusiastic and creative contributions to PWBF’s research into plastic pollution in the Delaware River watershed. At one of our workshops she displayed such a deep knowledge about how plastic pollution enters the Delaware River and how it can affect that ecosystem that her audiences were inspired to change their own behavior and asked how they could help us in our work. Great job, all – people really do notice your work and are inspired by it!
Welcome To April: The Riverguides’s Investigation Into Plastic Pollution In The Delaware River Continues!
We kicked off April with a Saturday community event at Lardners Point Park. These events are always open our friends, volunteers, community and all PWBF stakeholders. Come join us! Our next events will be in mid-June.
The April event took place in the shadow of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge arc, where several students led our volunteers in an effort to record data from the plastics they collected while participating in a shoreline cleanup.
The youth we work with often identify teaching others as a key way for them to cement their own skills, and understand their own styles of learning. Our volunteers provide a collaborative audience for our Riverguides to engage with. Thank-you PWBF volunteers!
Orquidea, Pineapple, Cashmere, and Alex talked about the effects that plastic pollution can have in aquatic environments, and that while part of the solution is to remove these pollutants from the water and its surrounding ecosystems, another crucial part is to get information from what we recover. The most common items we’ve consistently found included Styrofoam fragments, beverage bottles, and bottlecaps, and more analysis will come over the next few months as we begin moving into analysis. Once the spring trimester starts next week, we will allot some time to learning more about ways to make sense of our data, create visuals out of it, and make some cool maps to put some geographic context to the issue of plastic pollution in our local river. We’re excited for this next challenge, and want to thank 11th Hour Racing for their support of this project! In the meantime, we’ll leave you with some words from one of our amazing young people, who goes by Pineapple, speaking on how their journey learning about marine plastic pollution has helped her with teaching others about it.
“What I learn here I take out with me. So for example, something small like littering; before if I had a juice it was out the window, if I had a wrapper it was on the ground. But now when I’m out and I have trash…I know what happens to it. So when you put litter on the ground… it goes right out into our oceans and fresh water. So you are basically dirtying up our oceans and it can kill animals in the ocean, you know they can eat it, they can get caught in it… I didn’t know about this stuff so I didn’t care… So it’s nice to go out, like when we do river cleanups and we’re down at the river and strangers are like ‘well what do you guys do?’… and I inform them about water and how to keep it clean. I notice that most of the people we talk to are like ‘wow! That’s so good! I never knew that!’ so I feel like people aren’t doing it on purpose to hurt the environment, they just don’t know about it. So I feel like I am applying those skills to the community to inform them about what’s going on… and I enjoy doing that!”