By Tristan Maker, Roaring Fork High School, Carbondale, Colorado
Hello everyone, my name is Tristan Maker. For those of you who don’t know me, I am currently a senior at Roaring Fork High School located in Carbondale, Colorado, currently living out my senior year of high school through this exceedingly unique and unprecedented time in our lives.
As a result of the pandemic going on, my primary plans for my year academically, athletically, and socially have dramatically changed to where I can’t accurately predict and plan out obligations a week out. However, this has provided, not only myself but all of us a true chance to appreciate life and the fruits of life in the present tense rather than troubling over the harvests and hurricanes to come in later years. Gaining the intellect and the concepts of harsh realities, such as appreciating the time stamp we currently sit in has taught me lessons about how to live my life and how actions should be made. As Marty Rubin says, “water flows because it’s willing.” You have to be willing to make things happen, willing to create change for a better future!
Approaching the dam of my childhood and childhood education I realize that I can’t sit around, pout, and cry about our worldwide situation--something I can’t control. Instead, I am seizing this opportunity to make an impact in a personal field of interest regarding my Senior Capstone project. My Capstone project drastically changed after COVID-19 had its say, but nonetheless, my project continued to address my interests and passion, made an impact in our community, and disseminated more awareness of a notable worldwide obstacle: plastic pollution.
My Senior Capstone project was conducting research for The Great Microplastic Survey along the shoreline of three reservoirs with significantly high recreational use at approximately 8,000 feet in elevation in the Colorado River headwaters. For those of you who do not know what The Great Microplastic Survey is, such as I did before my introduction to Sarah Johnson and the project itself, The Great Microplastic Survey (TGMS) is a global project run by the organization, Just One Ocean that uses citizen science volunteer participants to gather microplastics and mesoplastics field data near and in oceans, lakes, rivers, and other coastal regions.
Before I embarked on my TGMS research project, I first met with my community expert, Sarah Johnson, the director of the Youth Water Leadership Program and founder of Wild Rose Education. As a watershed science expert and civic action educator, she was eager to discuss my plan and offer guidance for the order of operations for my research.
After studying the TGMS project and experiment guidelines, I went out to my three designated locations, Ruedi Reservoir, Harvey Gap Reservoir, and Dinkle Lake to conduct my analysis.
Location #1: Harvey Gap Reservoir
Arriving at my first location, Harvey Gap Reservoir, I wasn’t sure what to expect at first. It was a bright, vibrant day out on the lake with plenty of people swimming, laughing, and enjoying their weekends by the lakeshore. Approaching the thick mud and sand shore, I noticed significant amounts of trash and plastic trash along the beach of the reservoir; from fishing bobbers, plastic bottles, small parts of plastic from boats, and much more, there was definitely evidence of modern consumerism and the waste that follows it.
Location #1: Results and Overall Findings
Throughout all my samples collected, no microplastics were found. Lots of rocks, sticks, vegetation, and about everything else you would expect to find at a lake--but no microplastics. Despite finding no microplastics, this reservoir contained the highest amount of visible and collected trash. Out of all three of my test sites, Harvey Gap Reservoir contained the most collected trash. This is frightening news for the future of Harvey Gap Reservoir: With time and help from Earth’s natural forces, these pieces of plastic can enter the water stream and slowly break down into microplastics. Our goal should be to remove discarded pieces of trash, specifically from lake sites, and dispose of them properly.
Location #2: Ruedi Reservoir
I have a long and sentimental history at Ruedi Reservoir. Since I was a kid, I’ve always spent time there and done just about everything imaginable. From fishing to tubing, I’ve always had an enjoyable time at Ruedi Reservoir and it’s one of the places that I hold close to my heart. Since I have such a connection to Ruedi Reservoir, I thought it would be a perfect place to test for microplastics because it’s one of my favorite places to spend time at. It was a cloudy day and I made my way down to the lakeshore. The contents of the lakeshore at Ruedi are drastically different from those at Harvey Gap Reservoir. I found Ruedi Reservoir to have a more gravely, fine-sediment lakeshore, whereas Harvey Gap Reservoir was mostly mud and thick, compacted dirt. Despite differentiating shores, the results of my tests were the same for both Reudi and Harvey Gap Reservoir--no microplastics found.
Location #3: Dinkle Lake
For my third and final testing site, I decided to travel up to Dinkle Lake, a popular summer hangout spot for both locals and select tourists near Carbondale, Colorado.
After finishing collecting and sorting my data, ZERO microplastics were discovered. The whole purpose of this project was to discover is microplastics are found in our local reservoirs, and after my research none were found.
At first, it was a little disappointing to finish my project with zero microplastics, but this data is by no means bad news. In fact, I wish all people doing this test could have evidence like mine. I wish that all across the world people who do this same test, generally on ocean shores, would come up with zero microplastics but that is not always the case.
I’ve made the educated assumption that the overall state of our reservoirs are microplastic free. However, despite not finding any microplastics in my test sites I found and discovered COUNTLESS amounts of trash, most of which was small pieces of plastic waste. When I would walk down to the shoreline and really examine the landscape lots of medium-small pieces of trash stuck out to me. Things like old fishing bobbers (plastic), food wrappers (another form of plastic), old broken pieces of plastic most likely coming from boats or other recreational devices--the list goes on.
When we examine the lifecycle of microplastics and where they really come from, the majority of them all start from large pieces of plastic that slowly get broken up into dozens of smaller pieces. We may not have microplastics in our reservoirs now, but if we continue and contribute to the pollution and mistreated waste in our ecosystems, it is likely that over time microplastics can start to make an impact and appearance.
Tristan Maker is a senior at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, Colorado and upon his 2021 graduation will enter Veterinary school at Colorado State University. Tristan presented his capstone project at the 2020 Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit.
Thank to Rios to Rivers for cover photo by Weston Boyles