Microplastic Sampling with Acadia Parent on Lake Huron

On the hunt for Microplastics.

words:: Ben Osborne // photos:: Scott Parent

Microplastics are a bit of a mystery—they’ve been known about for over 50 years, but only recently has it come to the public’s attention the potential harm they may cause. Scientists know a few basic facts, like that they are less than five millimetres in length—but beyond that, information is scarce. We also know that these invisible plastics come from a variety of sources: larger plastic debris, microbeads which are added to health and beauty products and can also come off of clothing during washing.

Because of their size, these tiny plastics can easily pass through filtration systems and end up in the oceans and Great Lakes of North America—and they could be posing a huge threat to aquatic life. Until recently, not much has been known about the effects they could potentially have, but times are changing.

“I wanted to experience joining all the regions of Huron together in one effort.  Once the idea to take Acadia came along, there was no looking back.”

With the development of standardized field methods for collecting sediment, sand, and surface water microplastics, there is hope—but it will take a concerted effort before we can learn exactly what the effects of these nearly invisible pollutants are.

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One of the folks contributing to that effort? A 9-year-old from Ontario who goes by the name of Acadia Parent. On July 3, Acadia and her father Scott, set out from Drummond Island, Michigan to paddle just under 500 kilometres to Penetanguishene, Ontario on a standup paddleboard.

Why go on a trip like this?

“I saw the potential in this line a few years ago. The Métis migration of 1828 departed from Drummond island when the Americans inherited it after the war of 1812.  The Canadians living there were given land titles in Penetanguishene, where I grew up,” says Scott, a contributing editor for Mountain Life—Blue Mountains.

Microplastics are hidden in even the most crystal-clear, insta-perfect water.

Bringing along a kid would undoubtedly introduce some new challenges—but Scott was up for it. “I wanted to experience joining all the regions of Huron together in one effort.  Once the idea to take Acadia came along, there was no looking back.”

And once Acadia was on board, the idea to collect microplastics came organically.

“I read the 2018 report on microplastics by the Lake Huron Coastal Centre, and I thought I could take samples along the trip. I wondered if we’d find plastic in fish from Lake Huron like they find in whales.”

With huge swells on Lake Huron, the trip was no walk in the park, and with unseasonably cold temperatures, Acadia needed to wear a wetsuit for most of the trip. Just completing the paddle was a feat—to sample water along the way presented an entirely new challenge. Lucky for us, there are motivated and talented individuals like Scott and Acadia Parent who are helping us understand problems like this, and hopefully one day we can find a solution. We haven’t yet heard the results of Acadia’s sampling, but we are excited to see what they found. Stay tuned for an article next spring in Mountain Life—Blue Mountains. —ML