What I learnt paddleboarding 170 miles of the Hudson River to highlight plastic pollution

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In nine days, 170 miles and one hurricane, Lizzie Carr became the first person to paddleboard the length of the Hudson River. But her real challenge was logging ALL the plastic waste. Here's what she learnt.

Georgina Wilson-Powell 4 January 2019


Environmental activist, author, and champion paddleboarder, Lizzie Carr, spent just over a week in October 2018 (during Hurricane Florence) paddleboarding the length of the Hudson River.

She was the first person to paddleboard from Albay in New York State to the Statue of Liberty in New York City. But it wasn’t the length of the river she wanted to tick off, it was to raid awareness off, and document, the plastic pollution found in our rivers.

While ocean plastics - and microplastics - have got a lot of press in the last year, 80% of all plastic is swept into sea via our riverways which often wind through urban and semi-urban settings collecting plastic debris before dumping it in our seas.

Lizzie decided to build on her 2016 adventure, paddleboarding the length of Britain’s waterways, by pitting herself against the Hudson River, ending up having to navigate a 3.5 mile wide commercial shipping lane before reaching her destination, the Statue of Liberty.

She fill us in on what she learnt during her eight days paddling for nine hours a day, during hurricane infused rainstorms and wind.

Lizzie Carr The Hudson Project3

Plastic isn’t just a UK problem

I was heading out to New York anyway for the GAP world tour - and I’m the ambassador for Plastic Patrol, which is a charity that gets people to log bits of plastic they’ve seen so we can create a map and organises waterside clean ups.

America’s such a huge user of single use plastic. My UK mission to tell the story of plastics through paddle boarding and adventure got conversations started. I want to do the same thing in America.

We need to connect people to the problem visually

The New Yorkers I met were so supportive and encouraging and so behind what I was doing. I was on a flight and I had a book in my lap about plastic and was talking to the guy next to me about it but there’s a disconnect about caring and having a responsibility to do something about it.

I log all the bits of plastic I see on my phone. It’s time consuming but it shows people what the problem is clearly and you need to show them it’s a problem in their own backyard.

Lizzie Carr The Hudson Project5

Lizzie spent nine days paddleboarding and logging plastic waste on the Hudson River

If you enjoy nature, you need to protect it

Being outside is my playground. It’s where I restore my mental and physical health and it’s marred constantly by the sight of plastic. You can’t paddle past it and ignore it.

We can’t ignore these warnings, we’re at a tipping point and we have to listen to them and we need immediate action. You can mobilise communities all over the world at local levels much more quickly than globally.

Paddleboarding gives me a sense of calm. I’m anxious and I talk about anxiety, it’s amazing for physical fitness but there’s also a side of it that enhances wellbeing. I’ll go out on the water mentally exhausted and frantic - and it restores me and I feel like I have more focus.

As consumers and individuals we DO have the power to change the plastic tide

We should question everything as consumers. Our mainstream media and the government haven’t fed us the reality. 

Change comes from consumers, we need to encourage people to change their minds and their hearts and then combat it at the social level and change our consumer habits. When we unite across social media, it gives us an independent and powerful voice.

Lizzie Carr The Hudson Project
“It’s where I restore my mental and physical health and it’s marred constantly by the sight of plastic. You can’t paddle past it and ignore it”

It's best not to paddleboard in a hurricane

I thought we’d have really good weather as there had been a heatwave before I flew out but we caught Hurricane Florence.The whole weather system was thrown and the conditions were tough. The Hudson is notoriously fast flowing, and there was torrential rain and huge swells - with no support boat. On this inflatable board I can’t get off the water quickly, there were rock faces along a lot of it and I didn’t know what was coming next.

Mentally when you’re all ready intimated by the power of nature and the fear kicks in, you want to panic but have to keep a level head.

Don’t ignore the data

Logging every bit of plastic I saw in nine days was incredibly time consuming but the data is really valuable. In the Plastic Patrol app you can see what types of plastic is drifting where, who is responsible and where it comes from.

There are already over 50,000 examples and the more data we get is evidence, that we can use to drive change. After this challenge, Hudson River Park Trust have an archive which my microplastic information will feed into and Riverkeeper are using my pictures so they can compare what they’re finding.

I added more scientific elements, I also used a new tech on my fin that allowed me to measure temp and characteristics of water. We don’t have a lot of info on river temperatures and I also undertook some microplastic sampling. I tried to do it as accurately as I could, I’m quite militant in my mind about doing it properly. Anything I can do from the paddleboard to log and measure I will do.

People want change

Through the beach clean ups and my paddleboarding adventures I’ve seen that people are willing to commit their time to sort this out. They want to learn and meet people and connect them with the waterways. It’s not a dumping ground and when they witness first hand nests made of plastic and so on and the more they use the waterways, they want to be part of a solution.

We’re all guilty of using plastic and the seas belong to everyone. If everyone thought about their own consumption in every industry - plastic is one part of it, there are so many small things we can do.

Been inspired by Lizzie? Join Plastic Patrolhere and head down to their clean ups or start logging the plastic waste you see.

Want to do more paddleboarding? Check out Paddling Britain: 50 Best Places to Explore by SUP, Kayak & Canoe by Lizzie Carr (Bradt on Britain).

Discover other plastic free advice in our Facebook community

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