Two Lake Tahoe residents are taking steps to address the lake’s long-time trash problem by swimming the 72 miles around Tahoe.
Dive Center owner Matt Meunier and Clean Up the Lake founder Colin West
plan to spend nearly four months scuba diving around the lake, all
while picking up garbage, an undertaking they are hoping will be the
biggest cleanup in Tahoe’s history.
Meunier approached West, who is a filmmaker, about the idea of making a film about swimming around the lake.
“I loved the thought but only if it was going to mean something,” said West.
The two men will get in the water three to four times a week starting June 1, 2020. Each session, they will use three air tanks which will take them about a mile and a half all while picking up trash.
West has been interested in making a
difference for several years, after he visited Belize and saw the trash
problem there. He started the nonprofit, Clean Up the Cayes.
had a burning desire to do something more other than lining the pocket
of the alcohol industry,” said West, who has primarily made films and
shows about the food and wine industry.
He then decided to focus his attention on the problem at home.
tourism increasing, so many jurisdictions working hard to manage the
trash problem across two states, no one is able to pay attention to the
trash under the surface of the lake that dates back all the way to the
’70s in areas,” West said in a press release. “I decided it was time to
make a difference in our own backyard. Tahoe appears to be pristine and
beautiful, but under the surface, there are quite a few issues going on
He’s now in the process of getting dba’s for Clean Up the Plastic and Clean Up the Lake to start focusing on Tahoe.
Microplastics in Lake Tahoe
Tahoe has recently gotten attention because of research done by the
Desert Research Institute (DRI) proving there are microplastics in the
lake and in the Truckee River.
Microplastics are defined by DRI as being plastics that are the size of a pencil eraser or smaller.
Research Professor Hydrology at DRI, Dr. Monica Arienzo realized a lack
of research done on microplastics and got a grant to study them.
Arienzo and her partner, Zoe Harrold, took surface level samples from
Emerald Bay, Nevada Beach, Kings Beach and Tahoe Keys.
were given samples of the Upper and Lower Truckee river by Kyle
Chandler-Isacksen, co-director of the Be the Change Project.
League to Save Lake Tahoe used its citizen science group, Pipe Keepers,
to gather samples from storm drains that flow into the lake.
“We found microplastics in pretty much all of the samples,” Arienzo said.
microplastics are under-researched, Arienzo can’t say where they are
coming from. Part of her and Chandler-Isacksen’s research is to
determine what the microplastics are so they can figure out the source
of the problem.
“It seems so bizarre
that there are little plastics floating around in the water, snow or
air,” Chandler-Isacksen said. Although the research is not definitive,
his gut tells him there will be negative impacts from microplastics.
Arienzo said her biggest concern is smaller animals ingesting the plastics.
West has approached DRI about working together on his project and Arienzo is open to the opportunity.
got into science because I scuba dive, so for me, if I could work with
them or dive with them, I’d be stoked,” Arienzo said. “It’d really be
Besides working with DRI, West is looking for more help.
their swim, they will pinpoint areas using a GPS that need extra
attention. They are looking for 18 to 30 volunteers to focus on those
West and Meunier are also
looking for funding. They are seeking state and federal grants but
they’ve also started a GoFundMe account.
are asking for $80,000 to help cover the costs of scuba equipment,
trash cleanup supplies, gas for the boat, filming supplies and man hours
since both men will be taking time off from their jobs.
kick off the project, West and Meunier are hosting a preliminary
cleanup Saturday, Sept. 21, on the east shore of the lake. This event
will mark the start of filming for the “Making a Difference” documentary
about the project.
West is aiming to
get the film out in early 2021. In the film, he will highlight other
groups that are finding solutions for the microplastics and trash
“We want to show people who are trying to find a solution,” said West.
believe most of the microplastics are coming from trash, so he wants to
use this project to influence people to stop littering.
guarantee you that if I took you down there, within half a tank, I
could find trash that’s been buried down there for 25 years,” West said.
League to Save Lake Tahoe engages the community by hosting beach
clean-up days after major holidays. They have been collecting data on
items they’ve collected. Since 2014, they’ve collected over 125,000
pieces of plastic from the beach.
is also fighting the trash problem. Education Program Manager Meghan
Collins recently released an informational flyer urging people to “beat
microplastics” by using reusable items such as coffee mugs and utensils,
not buying skin products with microbeads, washing synthetic clothing
less often, picking up trash and using reusable shopping bags.
Arienzo is not convinced all microplastics come from trash, she does
think West’s project could help find a correlation between beach trash
and trash found in the lake.
thing everyone agrees on; even if trash isn’t the cause of
microplastics, everyone still needs to do their part to clean up.
the problem) requires and hinges on a science component and it’s about
making a connection to community members who would be interested in
mitigating the problem and finding a solution,” Collins said.
To donate to the 72-mile cleanup project, or to see a trailer about the film, visit http://www.gofundme.com/f/72-mile-lake-tahoe-scuba-clean-up.
To learn more about DRI’s research, visit http://www.dri.edu/newsroom/blog/401-featured-project/5842-problem-plastic-investigating-microplastic-pollution-in-nevada-s-waterways.