| by Eva Gudbergsdottir

Alyssum Pohl kayaking

“I was looking for ways to demonstrate that the health of our oceans concerns all of us,” explains Alyssum Pohl 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 is also collecting wa­ter-quality samples for a paper she wants to write 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.”

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Eva Gudbergsdottir