Plastic contamination of rivers and oceans has gained widespread media and public attention recently, particularly in Europe as a result of various high-profile television programmes. The UN Environment Programme estimates that between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the world’s oceans every year. The impact of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems is widely known, with the most obvious examples being fatalities of marine mammals through ingestion and entanglement. There is much less understanding about the impact of microplastics (<5mm in size) in the marine environment, and less still about its distribution. There is also little understanding of the impact this has on the food chain. The World Health Organisation has recently announced a review of the risks of plastic in drinking water, following research that found plastic particles in bottled water.
Much research is ongoing into the presence of plastic in rivers that are affected by urbanisation and industry, as this is obviously where the issue is worst. Even in these locations, there are very limited data and it seems that every time we look for plastic pollution, we find it. For rivers that are, or at least should be, unaffected by urbanisation and industry, there is virtually no information so far.
At over 68,000 km2, the Peel is a northern wilderness rich in biodiversity, where caribou, grizzlies and wolves roam free. It is a rare place where nature seems limitless, and where plants and animals do not just survive – they thrive. For the First Nations who call it home, the Peel Watershed has provided cultural and physical nourishment for thousands of years. Protecting the Peel means preserving their history, their identity and their future.
The lack of development in the watershed means this is a river system that, unlike many in the world, should be free from the presence of plastic contamination. The aim of the expedition is to add to the growing knowledge of plastic contamination in the environment.