River Protectors

Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge

We must all protect the natural resources we enjoy outdoors. Ready to join us? Sign up here or email us to learn more.

RIVERSPORT has a passion for outdoor river adventures, recreation and sport. Now, we’re launching a new initiative to share our passion for keeping our rivers in their natural state – free of litter and trash.

RIVERSPORT River Protectors is a way to bring our community together as good stewards of our Oklahoma rivers and waterways. The North Canadian River travels from Colorado through New Mexico into the Texas Panhandle and on to what eventually becomes the Oklahoma River. Everything thrown away upstream eventually makes it to the Oklahoma River.

RIVERSPORT River Protectors focuses on removing trash as it arrives, but more importantly, identifying and working to bring about the cultural shift that will eliminate the problem.

A unique feature of RIVERSPORT’s River Protectors initiative is the idea of cataloging the trash to define the scope and source of the problem.

Using the free Litterati app (available for Android and OS), project leader and RIVERSPORT Lifestyle Manager Brent Allen and volunteers have retrieved and catalogued over 15,000 pieces of  trash in just a few short weeks.

Litterati users photograph and tag trash with a GPS locator so we can work on data-driven solutions.

Worst Offenders, Opportunities to Change

The two most common forms of trash found in the river are single-use plastics such as water and soda bottles, and Styrofoam cups, plates, and to-go containers. 

“We have to move away from these single-use items that once created, are on this planet forever,” Allen said. “In the short term, they are killing fish, birds and sea creatures. Long term, plastic breaks down into smaller pieces with micro-plastics making their way into our oceans and our bodies. As Styrofoam degrades, it releases toxic chemicals.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way. We can have the convenience, but replace plastic and Styrofoam with products that are biodegradable or compostable,” Allen points out. “Today we have lots of options.”

“We need volunteers to help pick up the trash, but we also need people to ask their restaurants and retailers to offer more eco-friendly alternatives than Styrofoam and plastic,” Allen said. “We understand it’s a process. RIVERSPORT is working to get there just like everyone else. It’s a journey that begins with that first step.”

Get involved!

  1. Download the free Litterati app
  2. Volunteer to be a RIVERSPORT River Protector – info below
  3. Support conservation efforts everywhere

We are looking for either individuals or groups to help pick up and catalogue the trash along the river. RIVERSPORT is partnering with OKC Beautiful to complete a series of clean up events and is inviting volunteers to join the effort.

Litter pick up supplies including grabbers, buckets, nets for smaller items, biohazard containers, and coffee bean bags (rather than plastic bags) are provided via local donations from Edmond Lowes stores and Eôte’ Coffee.

Groups interested in participating in a planned clean-up event can contact OKC Beautiful at (405) 525-8822 to learn more. Individuals can participate using the Litterati app. Sign up here or email us to learn more.


More Resources

Bring practical, STEM based, environmentally friendly lesson plans into your school, classroom, or home schooling curriculum. STEM Education Resources

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Learn How Plastic Harms Oklahoma’s Wildlife

By Keaton Knopp, Age 16
Basecamp Nature Center Co-Creator and RIVERSPORT Junior Crew Rower

35 million tons of plastic and plastic products are produced every year, just in the U.S. alone. Whether in the form of wrappers, bottles, bags, or cartons, it is all very harmful to the ecosystems around us. What many people seem to forget is that such a large amount of plastic has to end up somewhere, and if not recycled, plastic is detrimental to natural ecosystems. It is believed that 700 different aquatic species could go extinct due to the buildup of plastic in the world’s water waterways.

So how exactly does plastic harm Oklahoma’s wildlife?  First and foremost, plastic can be fatal if ingested.  When plastic ends up in Oklahoma’s waterways, many of the state’s native aquatic wildlife such as turtles and fish mistake it for food and attempt to eat it.  That plastic then becomes stuck in the animal’s gut and prevents digestion.  This leads to a very slow and painful death.  Because it takes up to 1,000 years for plastic to break down, that plastic will continue to kill other animals in the wild. Over one million animals are killed each year globally by the buildup of plastic; this is NOT okay.

Take the spiny softshell turtle for example.  Because these turtles are not very intelligent, it is easy for them to mistake a piece of plastic for algae or a small insect.  The softshell will consume it and die within the week.  Now think about this same process happening over and over again to hundreds of thousands of animals.  Eventually, this dramatically decreases the populations of many different species simply because humans don’t bother to recycle. It is estimated that there are over one hundred MILLION tons of plastic in the world’s bodies of water right now; each small piece of that plastic can be fatal to an animal.

Ingestion is not the only issue.  Plastic (and Styrofoam) have a coating made of dangerous chemicals; when exposed to water and sunlight, those chemicals melt off the trash and contaminate the water.  Because fish have gills, these chemicals kill all the fish in that specific water source.  Fish are a key part of many animals’ diets, so when they are gone, the fish-eating animals disappear.  The death of one species causes the death of many others.

Styrofoam is also a major problem in the animal world due to the fact that it is still widely used and takes 500 years or more to decompose. The reason it affects waterways even more than terrestrial habitats is because Styrofoam releases its toxic ingredients into the ecosystem when it reacts with water. This creates a poisonous environment for everything living inside. This means that any time you use a Styrofoam cup at a gas station or get to-go boxes at a local restaurant, those unnecessary commodities can kill many animals. Those detrimental items won’t disappear until long after you are gone.

Next time you use a plastic water bottle or any other plastic appliance, think about where it could end up.  Because we can’t see exactly what happens with our trash, it is hard for us to relate and therefore hard for us to act.  If the world’s animals disappear, we disappear as well.  It is up to us to protect what can’t protect itself.  It is up to you.