Happy National Water Quality Month! Even though water covers much of the earth’s surface, only about 2.5 percent is fresh water, and less than 1 percent of that is easily accessible for human use. That makes every drop important and every decision you make that affects water significant.
Here at the Aquarium, one of our primary missions has been to help people make informed decisions about the water on which they rely. To that end, we’re partners in several projects aimed directly at safeguarding this rare and precious commodity.
Major communities like Chattanooga, Huntsville and Knoxville rely on the Tennessee River for their drinking water, but we don't have an accurate picture of its health. This month, that’s changing thanks to the work of Dr. Andreas Fath, a professor of medical and life sciences at Germany’s Furtwangen University. On July 27, Dr. Fath — also a champion endurance athlete — undertook an ambitious project to swim and comprehensively analyze the water quality of the Tennessee River … all 652 miles of it. This project is a follow up to Rheines Wasser, a 2014 project he completed to swim and analyze the entirety of Germany's Rhine River. The Aquarium is one of several institutional partners helping to organize and spread awareness of TenneSwim.
Seven days in, Dr. Fath has swum more than 150 miles and is steadily making his way toward Chattanooga. At 7 p.m. tonight, he will give a presentation at the Aquarium in the River Journey building. There he will reveal preliminary results from the first week of testing — the full results won’t be available for several months — as well as discuss the challenges of his voyage and the reasons he felt motivated to take it on. Dr. Fath's journey will continue throughout the month as he makes his way, stroke by stroke, toward the mouth of the Tennessee River in Paducah, Ky. You can read about his findings and track his progress at TenneSwim.org.
Also this year, the Tennessee Aquarium joined forces with 18 other aquariums around the country to form an Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP). The ACP’s first campaign is “In Our Hands,” a nationwide effort to combat plastic pollution. Every year, about 8.8 million tons of plastic waste enters the ocean, about a dumptruck’s worth every minute.
Of particular concern are microplastics, fragments smaller than 5 millimeters in size, which are small enough to escape water treatment and which ultimately are consumed by microscopic life. Microplastics represent a rampant problem affecting water quality on a global scale as well as the entire aquatic food chain (up to and including the seafood we eat).
An important step the ACP has committed to in order to offset the plastic pandemic is to shift away from single-use plastics in our institutions. That’s why you no longer see plastic drinking straws or plastic bags in our gift shops and why we hope you’ll choose to avoid these items in your homes as well. Learn more about the ACP and the In Our Hands campaign at OurHands.org.
Through the work we’re doing, we hope you’ll become more aware of the importance of water in your life and the power you have through your daily actions to impact it. It may be National Water Quality Month, but clean water is something we should value every day.