Watertrek has decided to join forces with its new partner DryRivERS to contribute to the observation of water stress and the drying out of rivers. Piloted by INRAE (France's National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment) in Villeurbanne, DryRivERS’s application can be used to identify and photograph particularly dry areas, enabling researchers to make more accurate predictions on the effects of global warming on our ecosystems.

A European atlas of hydrographic networks sensitive to drying out will be developed from all the observations provided by DryRivERS and other sources of information, the aim of INRAE being to consolidate all the work and indicators on this subject.

Discover the App here.

On October 18 and 19, 2022, Watertrek was invited by Didier LeHénaff to the Etats-Généraux Sport Planète [Sport Planet Convention] organised by insurance company Maif at the CREPS Ile-De-France in Chatenay Malabry near Paris. Our co-founder Séverine took part in a round-table discussion on "Teaching eco-responsibility through sport", reminding us of the importance of imagination and sensitivity behind any personal commitment. 

Sabine, head of the Plastic Origins programme at our partner Surfrider, and our co-founder Séverine, visited Vallon-Pont-D'arc in the Ardèche region to meet Gille, a regular diver on this site and discover the impact of tourism in this location under strong pressure.  

 

Lost glasses, telephones, shoes, cameras, caps, clothes... Canoeists who take to these white waters often see their boats overturned. Whilst these accidental falls can be amusing, they leave behind numerous objects in the water, a number that rapidly becomes colossal when factoring in the number of people using the river. In high season, over 2,000 people ride the river every day, contributing to a total of 180,000 canoe and kayak trips each year. This amounts to thousands of pieces of macro-waste littering the Ardèche river beds. Then there's the pollution from the canoes themselves: when the polyethylene hulls of the boats hit rocks or other boats, they leave behind thousands of multicolored plastic shavings. As with any other type of plastic presence, these fragments travel in the ecosystem and soon reach the Rhône and the sea in the shape of tiny entities, adding to all the others. 

 

Gille, our host, also guided Sabine and Séverine through the upper bed of the Ardèche, still dry at this time of the year, to show them some "atterrissements", relatively old strata that have accumulated old waste which, here again, and depending on floods, are likely to be flushed and join the stream of waste bound for the sea. An unauthorized landfill was also observed on the banks of the Ibie, a tributary of the Ardèche, before it too was "erased" by the floods a few days later. 

4 stand-up paddlers, Stéphane, Serge, and Saïd from Ecosup xplorers and Séverine, from Watertrek set off to explore the Marne river. Kickstarting the expedition at Germiny-L’Evêque, the group paddled 17km all the way to Meaux.

The objective of the expedition was familiar: locate plastic waste to better determine its source. The paddlers were equipped with Surfrider’s Android app: Plastics Origins. This enabled the group to record the areas where waste accumulated.

The trip was surprisingly calm given the rich biodiversity attributed to this area. The team observed 10 grey herons and a buzzard, as well as a couple of swans. No fish were noticeable from the river’s surface.

During the watertrek, the team found a large proportion of plastic bottles, as well as bulks of polystyrene, some blow-up toys, food wrapping, a ball, some cans, an extinguisher, and a garden sprinkler. Some larger objects such as insulation boards and a fridge were also located. The retrieved waste was unloaded at our arrival point.

To raise awareness and explore solutions, written findings were shared with local authorities and the CEREMA (Centre for Studies on Risks, the Environment, Mobility and Urban Planning).

Eight million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, 80% of this originates from land and is carried by rivers, so it's vital to act upstream and raise awareness on the impact of plastic waste and pollution.

On September 30, 2022, our co-founder Séverine was awarded the Franco-Romanian Friendship Prize at the French Senate for her work with Romanian paddlers during a trip to Bucharest. In June 2018, a Watertrek delegation travelled to Romania to meet with local rowers and activists, and discuss how best to work together to protect our natural playgrounds. The whole group was then allowed - for the very first time - to sail through the heart of the Romanian capital. 

The stand-up paddle board expedition through Belgium launched by Belgium-born Wim Pyl has arrived safely, not without a fresh dip on the rough beach of Nieuwpoort. Wim and his friend Jan Moermans - authors of a similar expedition on that exact same route 5 years ealier - were this time accompanied by Wim's sister Tineke, and by French-born Antoine Bruge, in charge of the Plastic Origins project by the Surfrider Foundation.

The paddlers crossed Flanders and spent nearly 10 hours each day on the water, on 4 different Belgium rivers in order to pick up the rubbish found on their route. About 60kg were picked up daily – even up to 120kg – needing to go empty the trailer full of rubbish bags almost every day in the landfills managed by Renewi. About 18 pieces of rubbish per km were reported in the studied areas via the Plastic Origins tool, the majority of them in the form of fragments such as bags or wipes (62%). 20%  are made of bottles, 14% of food packaging and household products.

A giant snake made of bottles was designed for this occasion to alert people to the large presence of plastic waste in rivers and of its impact: made of more than 400 bottles picked up along the way, the paddlers managed to tow their 50m long floating snake, like the submerged part of a much larger flue since it is 220kg of plastic waste that enters the oceans each second.

The river Leie/Lys seems to be the most affected one, a river which originates in France.

If 5 years after their first trip Win and Jan observe that some accumulation areas have been cleaned up, the average quantity of waste observed and collected has hardly changed, which remains very alarming, both for the health of the rivers, the oceans, but also for ours. We ingest about 5 grams of plastic per week. 

The Route

Day 1, from Hasselt to Aarschot on the Demer

Day 2, from Aarschot to Mechelen on the Dyle or Djile

Day 3, from Kortrijk/Courtrai to Zulte on the Lys or Leie

Day 4, from Deinze to Ghent on the Lys or Leie

Day 5, from Ieper/Ypres to Nieuwpoort on the Yser or Ijzer.

Documentary film to follow in June

Launched by the Belgian stand-up paddlers Wim Pyl, his sister Tineke and Jan Moermans, who already paddled that exact same route in 2017, a group of stand-up paddlers and Watertrekers will go for a long distance expedition of 250 km on 3 Belgian rivers at the end of April 2022 to observe the evolution of plastic waste present on the itinerary 5 years later. 

The objective remains identical: to alert on the quantity of macrowaste in rivers, responsible for 80% of the plastic pollution found in oceans.

In addition to this desire to raise awareness, the crew wishes to accurately quantify the number and type of waste encountered and to map it. The Belgium paddlers will be joined by Antoine Bruge, designer in France of the Plastic Origins protocol within Surfrider Foundation, a numerical tool to count and map waste in rivers, and by Stéphane Vuillet, a French speaking film director from Brussels who will immerse into the adventure to shoot a documentary film.

The participants plan to collect plastic waste on their way and build a giant snake that will float at the back of the paddle boards, convinced that such a creation - because of its large size - is likely to raise attention on those pollutions. 

3 stand-up paddle boards, 5 hours of paddling along the Aa river between Remilly-Werquin and Setques in the north of France… that means 50 kg of waste collected. The objective of our Nordic crew was simple: to discover the river and collect as much waste as possible along those 9 kilometers. “We chose to go for a short trip because of the cold temperatures. This unknown route requires to be cautious.” shares Stéphane.

« This small descent is very eventful. The river is narrow and though it looks quiet, it’s been raining a lot and the current is rather strong. We are enjoying a peaceful and captivating stroll, away from any human agitation, though signs of invasive urbanization sometimes show up. Our harvest - plastics, bottles, tires, balloons, polystyrene etc. - is jeopardized by small dams and about to fall overboard. We will need to rethink the way we store waste on our boards. The river Aa meanders across the Regional Park of the Caps and Marais d'Opale. Our gaze is stimulated at every turn or grove. Gliding on our SUP is an amazing collective shared experience in such surroundings. More than ever, this mini-exploration further engages our reflection on the ecological state of our planet.”

Reynald, Christophe and Stéphane are school & sport teachers in the North of France, friends for 10 years and adventurers for 5. They are more and more aware of the environmental issues and measure their impact as they explore rivers from their paddle boards, and have recently started the descent of the Semoy in the Ardennes, without expecting to collect so much waste. Watertreker Stéphane takes his pen to share with us their surprising journey:

August 24, 2021 . 10 degrees Celsius. It’s 8:30 AM. At the height of the rapids of the Phades (near Montherme, in the valley of the Meuse and Semoy in France), the river Semoy follows its gentle circulation, bringing with it a ghostly mist. We prepare to reach the village of Hautes-Rivières, the starting point of our SUP exploration. The 18-kilometre descent promises to be sunny and we enjoy these moments that nature offers us.

At 10 o'clock, our three boats make their way under the first deck and there is our first warning: we are suddenly reminded of reality, Christophe just escaped a rusty pile on the edge of the water. His SUP is slightly scratched but nothing serious, it remains superficial...phew! Reynald still works his balance out which is still to be perfected. The initiation on Lac des Vieilles-Forges the day before finally reconciled him with the activity. Although it is low, the current does not help to reassure him completely. Very quickly, we discover the magnitude of an overwhelming reality: plastic bags fixed and tangled within branches, unexpected objects force us to load our SUP to try to restore the original beauty of the place. Our equipment is rudimentary but still allows the recovery of some unwelcome treasures. The images are atypical: Christophe flies over the water with a plastic garden table on his SUP. I pick up a truck inner tube and already after an hour of sliding, we stop at the Faucon campsite in Thilay. We discover a new concept of camping - Glamping - contraction of glamour and camping. The table and the inner tube are handled without hesitation by the owner. The meeting is very pleasant, friendly, and it encourages us to resume our small expedition.

Our SUP caress twice tractor tires that we do not even try to get out, despite the consuming desire to free the place from that mark of unhumanity. They are located each time under a bridge and the accelerating current at this place would make any attempt perilous and probably sterile. Unfortunately, we quickly come across other major incongruities: second alert, while trying to extract a garden chair, my paddle sinks and ends up at the bottom of the river bed, fortunately only two meters deep. Our boats quickly take on the appearance of miserable rafts, littered with plastic bags, a full bottle of adjuvant and…a tied mattress folded in half !

Christophe's SUP which is wider than ours can easily accommodate large volumes and this allows us to continue our journey to the rapids of Phades. These small rapids, located downstream from the village of Haulmé in a setting that looks like Dordogne, follow a portage made mandatory by the crossing of a small dam. I recover just before a one cubic meter work bag trapped in branches and blocked between rocks.

Our arrival at the campsite is an unusual convoy, to say the least. After five hours and fifteen minutes of navigation, the image of our boats loaded with improbable materials seems to come from an almost burlesque world. The filthy waste definitely leaves the bed of the river and contrasts with the green and sunny lawn. We look at the bank with sadness and desolation. A little lady flips over them for a few moments, but does not land there. The owner of the place, circumspect, helps us without hesitation to transport our discoveries into containers. He even offers us a night for free during our next visit, proving his solidarity and gratitude for our initiative.

This first exploration of the Semoy stimulates our imagination. Exchanges on our future descents are multiplying. This eco-responsible SUP practice reveals the pleasure of living together an authentic collective experience coupled with a major interest for the protection of aquatic environments (The Semoy flows into the Meuse, which itself joins the North Sea at Rotterdam 950 km further). This is all about the simple happiness shared in tune with the rhythm of the water and the mosaic of a nature always so surprising, inspiring and beautiful.

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