The “Sea to Source: Ganges” river expedition, in partnership with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the University of Dhaka and WildTeam is an unprecedented and unique opportunity to get a holistic view of the plastic pollution issue in a watershed and ultimately, how to solve it.
Heather J. Koldewey is a 2018 National Geographic Fellow and scientific co-lead of the National Geographic Society’s effort to better understand the impact and scope of plastic pollution in our waterways through scientific research and exploration. Koldewey joined the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in 1995 as a postdoctoral research scientist before becoming curator of the ZSL London Zoo Aquarium and then head of marine and freshwater conservation. She currently serves as ZSL’s senior technical advisor.
Koldewey finds solutions through interdisciplinary research and conservation action at the interface between communities and environment. In 1996, she co-founded Project Seahorse, a group recognized as the world’s leading authority on seahorses and an early pioneer of community-based marine conservation. More recently, Koldewey developed Net-Works, an award-winning project that has implemented a novel, community-based supply chain for discarded fishing nets that are recycled into nylon yarn used for carpet tiles and fashion, addressing issues of marine debris and poverty alleviation in coastal communities in developing countries. She also leads the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science, an interdisciplinary research and conservation programme for large marine reserves involving 66 researchers from 18 institutions and seven countries.
Koldewey uses collaborative, optimistic and values-based approaches to communicate and engage people in marine conservation, including One Less, a campaign to build a more ocean-friendly society through working to make London the first capital city to stop using single-use plastic water bottles.
As scientific co-lead of National Geographic’s plastic pollution initiative , Koldewey will help lead an international, all-female, interdisciplinary team in developing a scientific plan to combat plastic pollution, starting with an initial expedition this spring to study the type and flow of plastic in the Ganges River. Through the expedition, the team will work with National Geographic and international partners to provide science-based, actionable information to help local and national governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses and the public more effectively invest in and implement innovative solutions to the plastic waste crisis.
An honorary professor at the University of Exeter, Koldewey graduated with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences (marine and fish biology) from the University of Plymouth and a Ph.D. from Swansea University.Back
National Geographic Fellow Jenna Jambeck is an award-winning explorer, distinguished professor, and director at the University of Georgia. Scientific co-lead of National Geographic’s work to combat plastic pollution, Jambeck has been conducting research on solid waste issues for over 20 years, with related projects on marine debris since 2001.
She also specializes in global waste management issues and plastic contamination. Her work on plastic waste inputs into the ocean published in Science magazine has been recognized by the global community and translated into policy discussions by the Global Ocean Commission, in testimony to the U.S. Congress, in G7 and G20 Declarations, and the United Nations Environment Programme.
She conducts public environmental diplomacy as an international informational speaker for the United States, including multiple global programs of speaking events, meetings, presentations to governmental bodies and media outreach around the world. In 2014, she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean with 13 other women in eXXpedition to sample land and open-ocean plastic and to encourage women to enter STEM disciplines.
She is co-developer of the mobile app Marine Debris Tracker, a tool that continues to facilitate a growing global citizen science initiative that has documented the location of over 2 million litter and marine debris items removed from our environment.Back
Taylor serves as the Director of the Plastics Initiative at National Geographic Society.
Her role includes developing, managing, and executing the international “Sea to Source” expeditions.
She has a background in marine conservation and the integration of science into decision-making.Back
Sandra Elvin is director of expeditions for the National Geographic Society’s Life at the Extremes impact initiative. A wildlife biologist, she focuses on environmental sustainability and conservation, and has guided trips all over the world. Elvin earned her master's degree in marine management at Dalhousie University in Canada where she developed strategies to address collisions between right whales and commercial vessels navigating through the whales' feeding grounds and migration paths. Elvin completed her doctoral degree in environmental studies at York University in Canada where she examined mitigation projects used to address the adverse effects of industrial development on black bears. As an expedition leader, she has been a professional guide on polar bear and beluga whale trips in Canada, giant panda and Asiatic black bear trips in China, and snow leopard expeditions in Mongolia. She has also worked for various organizations in Canada, the United States, Kenya, and the Philippines. Over the years in her work, she has witnessed the effects of climate change firsthand and is deeply committed to working on related issues.Back
Marine biologist and sea turtle researcher Emily Duncan is a National Geographic Early Career Grantee and postdoctoral researcher. After completing her B.Sc. in ecology and conservation at the University of Exeter, she continued on to her Ph.D. entitled “Investigating impacts of plastics on marine turtles,” which has been at the forefront of method development and assessment of this threat to marine turtles. Broad research areas she covered include diet-related selection of ingested macroplastics and links to feeding ecology, novel method development to isolate and identify microplastic ingestion, the distribution of plastic burdens on critical nesting beaches, and oceanographic modeling of source locations and global assessment of marine turtle entanglement. She has worked on collaborative projects with organizations and institutions that include Plymouth Marine Laboratory (England), Duke Marine Laboratory (U.S.), Queensland Government (Australia) and Marine Turtle Conservation Project (Cyprus).
Living in Falmouth, Cornwall, England, Duncan has become a keen sailor and was recently invited to be the head of science on eXXpedition’s North Pacific voyage (first leg), an all-female crew sailing through the heart of the North Pacific Gyre (Hawaii to Vancouver), collecting samples for marine plastic research.
Duncan’s latest turtle research will focus on working with a unique set of post-hatching samples that have been stranded on the Queensland, Australia, coastline. These are potentially some of the most vulnerable yet understudied life stages of marine turtles, largely due to the presence of plastic pollution in the marine environment, the size of the turtles and their location. Analysis will be undertaken to discover the extent of macroplastic presence and the possibility of microplastic ingestion, and to investigate the link between plastic ingestion and persistent organic pollutant burden.Back
Sarah Nelms is a marine conservation scientist from south-west England, an area well-known for its beautiful and rugged coastline that inspired her love of the sea and the desire to protect it from an early age. Nelms holds a Bachelor of Science in environmental biology from the University of Plymouth and a Master of Science in conservation and biodiversity from the University of Exeter. She recently completed her Ph.D. at the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, where her work focused on marine litter, specifically plastic pollution in coastal environments and microplastic (plastic less than 5 mm in size) ingestion in marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals. She has also conducted research on the broader impacts of plastic pollution — ingestion and entanglement — on marine mammals, turtles and seabirds.
Nelms is a strong advocate for scientific outreach and has written a children’s book that tells the story of a turtle that accidentally eats a plastic bag it mistakes for a jellyfish. The book has been translated into seven languages and is used in homes and schools worldwide to spread awareness about the impacts of plastic pollution on marine animals and to inspire the next generation of marine conservationists.Back
Surshti Patel is a technical specialist in the marine and freshwater conservation team at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Since joining ZSL in 2013, Patel has worked on a number of projects in Europe, Africa and South-East Asia, conducting interdisciplinary research and conservation, and leading the development and implementation of monitoring and evaluation systems.
Patel has more than five years’ experience developing pro-poor, equitable and scalable solutions for community-based marine and freshwater conservation, integrating plastic waste management, protected area establishment, sustainable livelihood development and access to financial services. Since 2014, she has worked on Net-Works, an award-winning solution implementing community-based supply chains that deliver “less plastic and more fish,” integrating business and non-governmental organizations to address global marine issues. To date, Net-Works has prevented nearly 225,000 kg of plastic in the form of discarded fishing nets from entering our ocean, recycling the nets into carpet tile. Patel has also worked on the Angel Shark Project in Wales, which aims to safeguard one of the world’s rarest sharks through fisher participation, heritage and citizen science. Previously, her research focused on payments for ecosystem services) in South America, investigating forest fragmentation and carbon storage in tropical Amazonian forests.
As the marine plastics social researcher for the National Geographic Society’s Source to Sea expedition, Patel will work with an international and interdisciplinary team investigating multidimensional poverty and socioeconomic drivers behind the plastic waste crisis. This research will contribute novel research towards understanding the relationship in the poverty and plastics dialogue and will help develop science-based solutions for waste management in poor rural communities.
Patel graduated with a Bachelor of Science in geography at the University of Leicester, and a Master of Science in environmental sciences from Kings College London.Back
Marine scientist Imogen Napper is a National Geographic Sky Ocean Rescue Scholar. She developed her love of the ocean from a young age as she learned to sail and surf in her seaside hometown of Bristol, England. Once she began noticing the effects of plastic contamination on beaches, her passion to be part of the solution grew. Napper received a B.Sc. in biomedical science and an M.Sc. in biotechnology. She is now finishing her Ph.D. in marine science at the University of Plymouth, focusing on the sources of plastic in marine environments. Her work recently helped influence the ban of microbeads in cosmetics internationally. Her research was also the first to analyze different fabric types (such as polyester) to determine how many plastic fibers come off during clothes washing. She found that up to 700,000 fibers could potentially come off from a single wash of acrylic clothing. Napper will be working to identify the most effective technology for capturing the tiny microplastic fibers that are released when clothes are washed. “The results will be used to help educate the public that behavioral changes in their lifestyle can be a major solution to the plastic problem,” she says.Back
Kathryn Youngblood is an environmental engineer who has always been fascinated by the complex ways in which humans interact with and rely upon our environment. An avid open water scuba diver, Youngblood is passionate about ocean conservation. Currently a research engineer at the University of Georgia, she has worked with the Jambeck Research Group for over five years studying upstream solutions to ocean plastic pollution. Youngblood was named an Our Ocean Youth Leader by the Sustainable Ocean Alliance in 2018 for her work with Marine Debris Tracker, a citizen science app creating a global open database of inland and coastal litter that has over 1 million items tracked so far. As a geographic information systems devotee, Youngblood believes in the power of geographic data to tell meaningful stories and inspire action. The citizen science litter data collected using the Marine Debris Tracker app constructs a powerful scientific and educational map to spread awareness on the issue of plastic pollution. Youngblood has helped create and foster a community of ocean activists and citizen scientists through public outreach, emphasizing Marine Debris Tracker’s social media platforms to reach an audience of young environmentalists. Follow along on Twitter and Facebook @DebrisTracker!Back
Amy Brooks is a doctoral student in engineering at the University of Georgia New Materials Institute. She holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with an emphasis in water resources, and has experience in agricultural and construction management. Her research broadly focuses on international solid waste issues related to plastic leakage into the environment. Her past research includes regional assessments of mismanaged plastic waste issues, and she has published on the topic of challenges and emerging solutions for land-based plastic waste in Africa. Her most recent work includes a historical analysis of the global trade of plastic waste, which estimated that 111 million metric tonnes of plastic waste will be displaced by 2030 due to recent international trade policies led by China. This work has provided policy briefings for the U.S. State Department and was shared at a recent G7 workshop in Canada. Though many of her projects look through a global lens, her current work has turned to the development of context-sensitive solid waste management interventions that are guided by principles of the circular economy implemented at the community level, with the ultimate goal of reducing the amount of plastic waste reaching the natural environment.Back
Lillygol Sedaghat is a National Geographic Explorer and multimedia storyteller at the intersection of science, systems and people. Previously, she was a Fulbright–National Geographic Digital Storyteller documenting Taiwan’s waste management system, plastics recycling and circular economy initiatives.
Through her work, Sedaghat hopes to inspire conscious consumerism — the realization that every choice we make affects the environment — and spark a global discussion on trash with #MyWasteMyWay. Using infographics, music videos, maps and digital storytelling to promote environmental education, she aims to transform people’s perceptions of trash from something disposable to something valuable.
An active spokesperson for National Geographic’s global Planet or Plastic? campaign, she has spoken at United Nations World Environment Day India and the National Geographic Live series, and has helped to launch the Planet or Plastic? campaign in mainland China and Hong Kong. She has been named as one of “5 Under 25: Leaders in U.S.-China Relations” by China Hands magazine.
Sedaghat received her Bachelor of Arts in political economy from the University of California, Berkeley, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental anthropology.Back
Mackay is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, science communicator and extreme environment specialist. A self-confessed “biologeek,” she has studied a wide range of scientific fields from volcanology to virology, plants to plastics, and has a passion for translating scientific stories into relatable, engaging and persuasive mixed media. She has written, filmed and presented documentaries, podcasts and live broadcasts on a range of topics from women’s health to sustainable agriculture — working with industries, communities and individuals to give a clear and honest voice to the unheard or misunderstood.
Ms. Mackay has an exceptional academic background studying Geological Sciences and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Cambridge and an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College, and significant experience operating research UAVs in a variety of plastics research projects across the globe including the Galapagos archipelago, Scotland, Canada, Greenland and Borneo.
Having travelled the world as a solo female filmmaker, living in remote regions and with indigenous communities, Mackay is passionate about telling the stories that connect us all to the natural world, its problems and solutions. She is also a keen ambassador for #womeninSTEM, #educationforall and #dronesforgood. With previous experience as a teacher, educator and journalist, she is able to combine her skills and love for engaging young people around current scientific and environmental issues.
Most recently, Mackay founded Ellipsis Environmental, a technology-driven impact venture providing the latest in surveying and analysis of environmental pollution. Ellipsis Environmental bridges the gap between problems and solutions of waste management by providing robust scientific data on material pollution around the world, along with contextualised, clear results and objective, actionable guidance.
Mackay is never more at home than in the jungle, outback or ocean, and she is keen to continue working around the globe to tell the unwritten stories of our amazing planet.Back
Ganges Expedition Partners in India
Ganges Expedition Partners in Bangladesh
Gawsia Wahidunnessa Chowdhury is a 2019 National Geographic Expedition Team Member, academician and researcher. She received her PhD in Zoology (wetland ecology) from the University of Cambridge and is a published author and has more than 12 years of experience in teaching animal diversity, wetland ecology and relevant topics in zoology. She has received many awards and grants, including a Commonwealth Scholarship and a Wildlife Conservation Society Fellowship. Chowdhury works with government, non-government and international organizations, and is currently working with threatened species and habitat conservation in Bangladesh. In addition to being a board member of the international conservation organization WildTeam, she is a member of international technical groups including the Commission on Education and Communication and the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.Back
International Scientific Advisors
Dr. Anwarul Islam – University of Dhaka and WildTeam
Dr. Brendan Godley – University of Exeter
Dr. Richard Thompson – University of Plymouth
Dr. Gopal S. Rawat – Acting Director, Wildlife Institute of India
Prof Jonathan Baillie – EVP and Chief Scientist, National Geographic Society
Dr. Md Abdul Malek – Director, Center for Advanced Research in Sciences, University of Dhaka
Mr. Kabir Bin Anwar - Chairman, Isabela Foundation