The ‘Sea to Source: Ganges’ river expedition, in partnership with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the University of Dhaka, and WildTeam, is part of an initiative by National Geographic to understand and document how plastic waste travels from source to sea, and also to fill critical knowledge gaps around plastic flow, load and composition. The international, all-female expedition team will scientifically document plastic waste in a watershed and develop holistic solutions.

This initial expedition will begin in the Bay of Bengal through the Padma River and end at the source of the Ganga in the Himalayas. It is the first of several such river expeditions planned as part of National Geographic’s Planet or Plastic? initiative, which aims to significantly reduce the amount of single-use plastic in the ocean. After the spring expedition to the Ganges, the team plans to continue with the work after the monsoon season to capture seasonal variations.

The expedition will focus on plastic pollution in three key areas: land, water and people. The team working on the land part of the study will collect data on the input and use of plastic in communities, and how waste is collected and managed. They will also quantify the movement and type of plastic in the environment. The water team will study plastic pollution in the air, water, sediment, and species in and around the river. The socioeconomic team will survey local communities along the expedition route to better understand awareness and perceptions about plastic pollution, household plastic waste management, and local solutions. The team will work with local stakeholders to raise awareness about plastic pollution and drive behavioural change.

This is the largest-ever all-female National Geographic expedition. As per the organisation, this is also the first time there has been a comprehensive investigation of this issue at this scale across sediment, water, air and land, and the first time innovative technology has been integrated to better understand plastic waste and devise solutions. The development of this rapid assessment methodology will be the basis for future expeditions worldwide.

The expedition team of 15 scientists and engineers is co-led by National Geographic Fellows Jenna Jambeck and Heather Koldewey. They will work with international partners to provide scientific, actionable information to build capacity for local solutions. Jambeck and Koldewey will be joined by National Geographic Explorers Emily Duncan, Imogen Napper and Lillygol Sedaghat, and an international team from the Indian Institute of Technology, the University of Dhaka, the University of Exeter, the University of Georgia, the University of Plymouth, WII, WildTeam, ZSL (Zoological Society of London), and other institutions.

CB’s questions on the duration of the expedition, funding sources, and follow-up actions after completion of the study did not receive any response from the organisation.

In a press release shared with CB, Valerie Craig, vice president of operating programs at National Geographic Society, said, ‘National Geographic is deeply committed to advancing solutions to the plastic waste crisis. These expeditions are a tremendous opportunity to mobilize a global community of experts to help tackle the problem.’

The team plans to share its expedition experiences in real time. Interested people can follow along at or on social media with #ExpeditionPlastic.