Environmental activists and filmmakers Gary Bencheghib and Sam Bencheghib stand up paddled the Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal Dec. 2 to show the global scope of the pollution crisis and the importance of acting now to clean our waterways.
Gary and Sam are producing an eight-part video series documenting the state of both waterways as well as interviewing experts and sustainable leaders in Brooklyn to give more insight to the current environmental situation here. The series entitled #BroCleanBKLN premiered on Facebook Dec. 7.
The French brothers started their journey at the Newtown Creek just under the Grand Street bridge and paddled outwards into the East River. The Newtown Creek located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn is the oldest continuous industrial area in the U.S. and also the site of one of the largest oil spill in U.S. history, a culmination of decades of oil leakage.
Sam and Gary Bencheghib in Newtown Creek, Dec. 2. Eliana Alvarez Martinez
In 2010, the creek was also named a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Gowanus Canal, also a Superfund site, has been referred to as "one of the most contaminated places in America," poisoned with industrial pollutants and pumped full of raw sewage. The EPA's cleanup is still in its preliminary stages and it remains highly polluted with the creek bed coated with old tires, car frames and discarded junk. Although the pollution is not entirely noticeable at first sight, the slight smell of petrol and revolting toilet smells are still persistent.
Sam and Gary Bencheghib in Gowanus Bay, Dec. 2. Marco Vitale
By both river mouths, the brother's journey quickly turned around when they saw a lot trash floating on the water's surface. So Gary and Sam decided to turn their expedition around and clean up the rivers.
"There is no more away, even in a city like New York our waterways are filled with plastics," said Sam Bencheghib.
The older brother, Gary, who has been a Brooklyn resident for the past four years said to his camera crew at the end of the expedition, "In increasingly uncertain times for our environment, there has never been a more important time than now to take action to clean up and restore our waterways. If we can start by showing a good example here in New York, the world will follow!"
MORE FROM SAM AND GARY
By Gary Bencheghib and Sam Bencheghib
With more than 80 percent of plastic pollution in the ocean originating from rivers and streams, we have decided to create a shocking visual of the world's most polluted river, the Citarum in Indonesia, by kayaking down it on two plastic bottle kayaks made from repurposed trash.
We launched Plastic Bottle Citarum to help make people think about the dangers that pollution has on human health. Located in West Java, the Citarum river is the water source for 15 million people for drinking, cooking and bathing.
The two kayaks we are paddling were built by the bamboo experts, EWABI. Each kayak has a bamboo frame and is filled with 300 plastic bottles to keep us afloat, which were collected by our partner, EcoBali, from school groups and waste facilities.
The goal of the expedition is to raise awareness of the dangers of plastic pollution and to inspire positive change by documenting some of the incredible and innovative efforts that are fighting the plastic epidemic in Indonesia.
During our expedition, we will be producing a series of five short videos documenting our descent down the river and highlighting the change-makers living on the river who dedicate their lives to cleaning up the Citarum and educating the local community on the impacts of pollution.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
While the U.S. makes it easier for coal companies to dump mining waste into streams and waterways, other countries are acknowledging the importance of water and granting personhood to these precious resources.
The High Court of the Indian state of Uttarakhand ruled that the Ganges and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries have "legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities."
The decision marks the first time a court has recognized a non-human as a living entity in India.
Judges Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh cited the example of New Zealand's Whanganui River, which became the first in the world to be granted the same legal rights as a person last week.
The decision by New Zealand's Parliament marked the end of the country's longest-running court case, as the Whanganui Iwi have long fought for the recognition of their authority over the river and consider it "an indivisible and living whole."
World's First River Given Legal Status as a Person https://t.co/cQqscoDqi4 via @EcoWatch https://t.co/LJeUbX8QT8— Climate Council (@Climate Council)1489970106.0
Similarly, the Ganges and Yamuna are considered sacred by the country's majority Hindu population.
"The rivers are central to the existence of half of the Indian population and their health and well being," the court said in its ruling. "They have provided both physical and spiritual sustenance to all of us from time immemorial."
The rivers now have "legal parents," or state officials who will be the human face of the rivers. The central government has also been directed to establish a management board within three months to lead conservation efforts.
The ruling gives the rivers a legal voice that could potentially save the highly polluted waterways from further destruction.
As India.com explained, since the Ganges and the Yamuna are now legal persons, "if anyone is found polluting the rivers, it would be equivalent to harming humans."
The Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal.Flickr
The judges noted that the once-mighty Ganges and Yamuna rivers are "losing their very existence."
The 1,569-mile Ganges River is a considered a lifeline for the hundreds of millions of people living along its banks. But increasing urbanization and industrialization of one of the world's fastest-growing economies have tarnished the waters. More than 1,500 million liters of raw sewage is discharged into the Ganges every day, along with 500 million liters of industrial waste, Live Mint noted.
A 2016 NPR report described the Yamuna, the main tributary of the Ganges, as the "dirtiest river in the country" and a "toxic cocktail of sewage, industrial waste and surface runoff."
India's governments have spent billions of dollars on efforts to clean the Ganges. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also promised to restore the river.
As more countries step up to legally protect their waterways, will the U.S. be left behind as our lawmakers continue to gut environmental protections?
Last month, President Trump signed legislation that repealed the Office of Surface Mining's Stream Protection Rule, a law that protects waterways from coal mining waste.
"In eliminating this rule I am continuing to keep my promise to the American people to get rid of wasteful regulations," Trump said at the signing.