Photographer hikes and bikes 3,300 miles to study microplastic contamination

Julie Hotz hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail to study microplastic pollution

Julie Hotz has joined forces with the Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation to study microplastics pollution across the United States. Photo: Julie Hotz

Photographer Julie Hotz is roughly halfway through a three-month, 3,350-mile long trip that has brought her from her home in Los Angeles to Montana and, at present, halfway through Washington heading towards the Pacific coast.

She has accomplished each mile either by hiking or biking, and she’s doing it all while studying water contamination across the United States.

“I kind of got hooked on long distance hiking back when I hiked Pacific Crest Trail in 2010 and 2013,” Hotz told GrindTV. “[This time] I wanted to find a way to integrate some work for a nonprofit in the adventure. I have been so busy working in the film industry the past few years, I haven’t been able to support nonprofits like I wish I could.”

During her search of a cause, Hotz stumbled upon Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation and instantly knew it was a match.

The group utilizes adventurers who are out in the field in hard-to-reach, remote locations to collect data samples on local ecosystems. Their work has led to the discovery of more than two dozen new species and helped measure climate change in hard to access locations.

“I saw they had all these ongoing projects with adventurers who are outdoors already in the areas where they’re trying to grab info,” Hotz said. “So, that was a way to do something I love and give back at the same time.”

Of the six conservation projects Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation is currently undertaking, Hotz decided to join in on the microplastics project after hearing about increasing freshwater contamination levels across the United States.

“I had heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch [a collection of marine debris particles in the North Pacific Gyres that some estimate to be the size of Texas], which I found pretty disturbing but it was understandable with how often people litter at beaches,” said Hotz. “When I heard about microplastics in freshwater — not just plastic bottles that go into streams, but microplastics that run off from our cosmetic products and our synthetic clothing into our freshwater sources — I knew I had to do something.”

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Hotz set out to collect water samples across the Pacific Northwest Trail to mail back to Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation to study. The group hopes they would be able to help identify the sources, composition and distribution of microplastic pollution in water sources worldwide.

Hotz also decided she wanted to do things a little differently on her trip.

“I decided if I was going to do this there could be absolutely no carbon footprint,” Hotz said. “If I was going to do it, I wasn’t driving or flying, I was doing it all on my own.”

On May 24, Hotz walked out of the front door of her house in Los Angeles, pointed her bike towards Glacier National Park in Montana, and started pedaling.

Roughly 2,000 miles later, she arrived at the east end of the park on July 3 and began her hike towards the Pacific coast four days later.

She plans to finish her trip some time in mid-to-late-September and has received tremendous support along the way.

“Almost everyone I’ve met has been supportive of my trip,” said Hotz. “People are surprised to know about these microplastics polluting our freshwater, so they support the cause.”

Day I don't even know, mile I lost track (2200?)! GLACIER NATIONAL PARK!!!! I made it on Friday! I biked in a continuous line all the way from Los Angeles to the top of the highest paved road in Glacier!!! Thanks to everyone who left me kind notes of encouragement while I was on my bike. Now it's time for my bum to get a break and for my feet to take the beating. I wanted to post all my biking photos in perfect order, day by day, but nothing in life is perfect, I'm way behind in posting and I'm about to start hiking the PNT tomorrow, so I won't have reception for a long stretch. I'll share the rest of my biking photos with you later. But let's begin the Pacific Northwest Trail, from crown to coast! #bikeandhike2015 #loganpass #glaciernps #gooutside

A photo posted by Julie A Hotz (@julieahotz) on

So far things have been going well on her adventure and Hotz is enjoying the ride.

“It’s great seeing this country slowly as opposed to rushing through it on a car or a plane,” said Hotz. “It’s amazing the detail you see and the people you meet walking or biking. I feel like I’m really getting to see the country for the first time this way.”

Follow Julie Hotz’ adventure on Instagram.

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