Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Paddling for a Purpose: Alumna Alyssum Pohl Documents Mississippi River Water Quality on 2400-Mile Journey

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Alyssum Pohl Kayaking on the Mississippi River

Alumna Alyssum Pohl MAIEP ’12 is solo kayaking the 2400-mile length of the Mississippi River, collecting samples along the way to document water quality and the impact of plastic waste. Photo by Leanne Davis.

September 11, 2015

“I was looking for ways to demonstrate that the health of our oceans concerns all of us,” explains International Environmental Policy alumna Alyssum Pohl MAIEP ’12 on a call from her kayak in the middle of the Mississippi River. “Our rivers, streams, lakes—it’s all connected!”

Near the end of the two-year fellowship she secured with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) before graduating from the Institute, Alyssum began thinking about how she could share her deep passion for ocean conservation with people who don’t live in coastal areas.

Not one to waste time, she created her own research project and is now paddling the length of the Mississippi River, from Lake Itasca in Northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Every 100 miles along the 2400-mile route she collects a water sample and sends it to a lab to be tested for microplastics. She plans to use her research to write a paper with John Sullivan, who previously paddled the river collecting samples.

“I have been blown away by the beauty of this area,” Alyssum says. During the first few weeks she saw very few people—it was only after two months of paddling that she entered more populated areas with commercial river traffic. Along the way Alyssum, who had no serious kayaking experience before embarking on her project, says she has been blessed by many of the helpful people who live along the river and invite paddlers in for a meal and a shower, and sometimes to camp in their backyards.

Alyssum aims to finish her journey by late October. And while she looks forward to completing her project, she says the main reward is that “Every day is a new adventure.”

You can follow Alyssum’s experience and research on her blog at alyssumpohl.weebly.com/paddle-on.

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