Rosie Riley
Written by Rosie Riley
Published on 14th April 2016
10 min read
Adventure Uncovered speaks to Gregg Treinish (Founder, Adventure Scientists, and former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year) on the environment, data and microplastics

Gregg Treinish, Founder of Adventure Scientists, completed a 7,800-mile trek in the Andes causing National Geographic to name him Adventurer of the Year in 2008 and ignite his ‘adventure with a purpose’ passion.

Since then Gregg’s completed a series of pioneering adventures. Adventure Uncovered caught up with him to understand his perspective on the relationship between adventuring and environmentalism and how Adventure Scientists maximises the capacity of adventure to accelerate positive change and adventure with a purpose.

AS Mission Statement:

Adventure Scientists is a US-based, nonprofit organisation that addresses the world’s pressing environmental challenges in which access to physical data is crucial to resolving them. By leveraging the skills of the outdoor adventure community we are uniquely able to gather difficult-to-obtain data at any scale, in any environment.

So Gregg, how do you see the relationship between adventuring and the environment?

The two are deeply connected. The environment provides an opportunity for adventure. Climbing mountains, hiking through the wilderness, paddling rivers or sailing oceans all require getting outside and interacting with the natural world. Without the environment, there would be no adventure.

Do we have a duty as adventurers to look after our environment?

As adventurers, we have an obligation to protect the places we play in. Adventures are uniquely able to access the most remote corners of the globe in the harshest conditions. As an organisation, Adventure Scientists empower the outdoor community to gather data that is critical to solving the pressing environmental issues of our time.

How does Adventure Scientists maximise the potential for adventuring to accelerate positive environmental change?

For a scientist, collecting hard-to-obtain physical data takes time, money and effort. Our adventurers possess crucial skills that allow them to gather otherwise unobtainable data from any environment efficiently. By letting us handle the data collection, scientists can spend more time analysing data and publishing their results – streamlining the entire process.

What was the reason behind setting up ASC? Was there a specific driver or moment for you?

There was a moment 3 months into my thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail when I collapsed in exhaustion and frustration. I felt so selfish pursuing this experience for no other reason than to say I did it. That was a wake-up call for me. Right there I pledged to do more with my time outside and empower others to do the same.

The microplastics project seems to be your main research piece at the moment, ‘the goal of which is to compile a comprehensive dataset and use that information to effect change’ … what’s this project about and what are the implications of your findings so far?

Our Global Microplastics Initiative is a worldwide effort to quantify the extent of microplastic pollution in the world’s waterways. Our adventurers have collected salt and freshwater samples around the world and we have found plastic pollution in 88% of the samples analysed, with 89% of the pieces being plastic fibres. Although a lot of recent media attention has been on microbeads, our results indicate that the fibres shed by washing synthetic clothing are making up a significant amount of plastic pollution in the world’s water supply. We are working in freshwater to identify sources of microplastics pollution, information that will be essential to decision makers working to reduce the volume of plastics entering waterways.

How can an adventurer work with you?

Adventurers typically sign up for a project on their own. After looking through our current projects, adventurers are directed to a project-specific sign-up page to finish the process. Once signed up, we provide detailed protocols and training materials and stay in direct communication with adventurers before their trip starts to answer any additional questions.

What would you say the benefits are?

Storytelling is a big part of the organisation and many of our adventurers are incredible photographers, videographers, and writers, looking for places to showcase their skills. ASC has been featured in the New York Times, Outside Magazine, and on NPR’s Morning Edition. The ASC Media team is always working with volunteers to develop material to go out through our channels. Working with adventurers also has big benefits for the organisation, our partner scientists and the environmental issues themselves. ASC adventurers become ambassadors for the project by spreading the word about the work being done and how others can get involved.

What’s the process and how big does the adventure have to be?

One question that we ask before taking on a new project is “why us?” If our adventure scientists aren’t uniquely capable of collecting the data, we don’t take on the project. Once projects are up and running, they tend to dictate the size of the trips our adventure scientists take. Adventurers who sign up for the Snow and Ice project are usually on huge mountaineering expeditions since the samples have to be collected above 15,000 feet. On the other end of the spectrum, the Roadkill project attracts cyclists out for weekend rides willing to record observations along the way.

Tweet us your reason why adventurers should look to have a positive environmental impact (140 characters only please!)

By choosing to add more purpose to our adventures, we can unlock solutions to the pressing environmental issues of our time.

More about Gregg and Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation and their great work can be found