Eco Paddler: Taking your paddling to the next step through citizen science

On giving back as a paddler

Photo Jason Goldstein / Ikkatsu Project
Photo Jason Goldstein / Ikkatsu Project

Remember when you were learning to drive? If you were like me, and you loved the feeling of being behind the wheel, it didn't matter where you were going or why, only that you got to do it as often as possible. Over time, we all worked on our skills and got to the point where we considered ourselves to be "drivers."

It really isn't that much different from how the average paddler's progression plays out. We start as novices, take a few classes, attend a symposium, plan our first overnight trip (which quickly leads to the next one); we practice rescues and learn to roll. We are on the water as much as possible and somewhere in there we look at the face in the mirror and see a "kayaker."

For a lot of people, something about the activity changes during this process. Just as our perception of an automobile shifts over time – few of us simply go for a drive anymore – our view of kayaking goes through revisions as well. We have spent time, money and considerable effort to develop our paddling skills and at some point we all need to redefine the purpose of that training. How and where we kayak is no longer as interesting to us; why we kayak becomes the more salient question.

The answer will be different for each of us, of course, but there is something to be said for incorporating science into your next paddling adventure. At any given moment there are scientists assembling data for a variety of projects and they are always looking for more input. Kayakers, often traveling through areas that are difficult to access, can help to provide valuable data, surveys and samples that would otherwise not be included.

Photo by Ken Campbell
Photo by Ken Campbell

If it seems like there is a match to be made here, you are correct. That's how it seemed to Gregg Treinish too, when he founded Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, an organization that matches scientists seeking data with wilderness travelers who are in the position to collect the very information that is being sought. "We have really started to focus on the projects that will have tangible conservation outcomes," Treinish said in a 2014 interview. "We want to accelerate the timeframe, minimize the costs, and ensure that decision makers are equipped to make the best possible decisions.”

With the expanded opportunities for collaboration that the Internet provides, researchers are able to accumulate data from around the world with a few clicks of a mouse. Making the human connections necessary to get the whole thing in motion, however, remains a communication issue and requires human contact.

Working with ASC is one way to connect. If there's a university in your area, chances are there's a connection to be made there as well. If you're a member of a paddling club, consider inviting a local researcher to make a presentation at a club meeting. Call local environmental non-profits that work in and around the water… any or all of these will have suggestions for how you can add another dimension to your paddling experience, while at the same time adding to the general sum of all knowledge. (Sounds rather powerful that way, yes?)

The thing is, you're still going paddling. Just as when you drive your car to the grocery store, you're doing the same things that you were doing before, but with the added depth that purpose brings. It may be a case of a different way of looking at familiar territory, the change in perspective igniting new passions and opening new doors.

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Eco Paddler: Fighting for the 71 Percent

Ken Campbell is a noted paddler, filmmaker, citizen scientist and conservationist. Last year, he completed a 150-mile journey up the Washington coast in a a kayak that was constructed out of discarded single-use plastic bottles.