Forums » Charity Projects

Mekong River Clean-up Campaign

    • Moderator
    • 3727 posts
    May 3, 2010 6:12 AM PDT

    For the last 8 years I have lived in Nong Khai, a peaceful border town located along the Mekong River. The Mekong passes through six countries and is an important water and food source to hundreds of millions of people. It is also home to some of the largest fresh water fish, and biodiversity, in the world.

    Kirk Gillock - Mekong River

    Each morning, for the past few weeks, I've been sailing a small fishing boat on the Mekong River. While on the river I've noticed A LOT of trash in the water. Over the years, when going to restaurants along the river, our volunteers have noticed customers, waiters, and cooks throwing their trash into the river. I remember also seeing the same thing happening in Vientiane, Laos too. Chances are the same careless behavior is happening along the entire 4,000km course that the river takes.

    Mekong River Trash

    I've decided that Isara needs to educate the communities who live along the Mekong River about the dangers of polluting their environment. If we can get just a few people to stop throwing trash into the river then the impact will be worth the effort. But, the only way to truly reach the people along the river, is to get out there and visit them.

    So that's what we're going to do!

    In the next few months we will be building a boat using recycled plastic bottles. It will have a wind generator, solar panels, electric engine, and be made of recycled wood. It will also have parts that will be made of trash found in the Mekong River. Don't worry (Mom), I won't be building it. We're having professional boat builders put it together and make sure it's strong enough for the voyage.

    The boat will be built here in Nong Khai but our journey down the Mekong will actually start in the northern most part of Thailand (#1 - below), where the Mekong River first enters Thailand. We will then follow the river down stream, through Laos, until we arrive back to Nong Khai (#2). After a short break, to restock and check the boat, we will begin the second phase of the journey. Our goal is to eventually reach the ocean (#3), passing through Cambodia and Vietnam. But there are a few obstacles (waterfalls) on the second phase which we need to work out first. If it's too risky then we'll stop before leaving Thailand (#2.1).

    Click for Google Map Version

    In this topic you will be able to follow along as we build the boat, get permission for the 1,500 mile (2,400km) voyage, and raise awareness of the campaign.

    Post your comments below! ;D

    UPDATED: Here's the campaign video.

    • 63 posts
    September 20, 2010 11:33 PM PDT
    Amazing thing, lets go to do it :-)
    • 74 posts
    May 3, 2010 6:29 AM PDT
    Brilliant idea Kirk ! I have always been astonished by the careless way Thai people treat their rivers,yet they dedicate festivals to it to show their appreciation.
    I suppose it is just another one of the many contrasts here.
    Good luck with this worthy project.
    • Moderator
    • 3727 posts
    May 3, 2010 6:37 AM PDT
    Thanks, leon. We were just discussing the Roy Katong festival today. It is a country of contradictions and contrasts, that's for sure. But there's still something very special about it, which keeps people like you and I here for such a long time.

    • 5130 posts
    May 3, 2010 7:00 AM PDT
    Kirk, you know this is going to be my "adopted" cause for you guys, right?  I'm so grateful, personally, that you are doing this.  :'(

    Thank you.
    • 5130 posts
    May 3, 2010 7:02 AM PDT
    Also, PLEASE consider making the building specs available in this thread. 
    • 5035 posts
    May 3, 2010 7:11 AM PDT
    This is a fantastic idea!!    Do you have a time frame for when you might begin your trip?  This is SOOOooo exciting!  :D 
    • Moderator
    • 1534 posts
    May 3, 2010 1:10 PM PDT
    Great idea Kirk! However, my suggestion to do some rowing or kayaking was to reduce stress, not create more projects, thus increasing stress. ;D
    • Moderator
    • 7061 posts
    May 3, 2010 4:05 PM PDT
    ZeroG said:
    Great idea Kirk! However, my suggestion to do some rowing or kayaking was to reduce stress, not create more projects, thus increasing stress. ;D
    Ha! Exercise and the environment go hand in hand, don't they? Great Idea Kirk!
    • 1 posts
    May 3, 2010 4:34 PM PDT
    Hi Kirk,
       Your Mom told me to check out your latest idea/adventure.  WOW!!  Good luck with this.  I  met your Mom last May at her shop and fell in love with the bracelets she was selling and with Isara when I found out why she was selling them.  I have shared your story all over Southern California and try to get others excited, too.  I got my Woman's Club in San Diego to sell the bracelets.   My kids are about your age, so I have a close affinity to you and admire what you are doing.  Your Mom, Kathy, is great, but I don't need to tell you.  I am computer-challenged, but I will visit again to see your progress on your wonderful school and projects.  Jody
    • 5130 posts
    May 3, 2010 5:31 PM PDT
    HEEEEYYYY....I see my old condo there in the background!  I know right where you're at there.  :D

    Hi Jody, that is extra nice of you helping to get the word out about Isara and their projects.  Thanks for checking in!  ;D
    • Moderator
    • 3727 posts
    May 4, 2010 1:51 AM PDT
    KitKat - We will hopefully be ready to sail sometime in July. But it might be sooner or it might be much later.

    Hi Jody! Thank you for registering and for posting in our forum. We appreciate all the help and support you and your Woman's Club in San Diego provide our little charity.

    thartley - We'll provide as many details as possible. Can't wait to get started building it!
    • Moderator
    • 3727 posts
    May 8, 2010 4:33 AM PDT

    Here's an artist rendition of what the boat's frame "might" look like. We're still waiting for the boat builder to give us the final specs.

    There will be a lot more "things" on the boat (rain guards, etc.) but that image gives you a general idea of what we're going for.

    Yesterday morning we did a speed/distance test on the Mekong. We sailed 4 miles in 24 minutes. That is an average of 10 mph. If we can maintain that speed with the electric engine then we should be able to complete Phase 1 of the campaign in about one week.

    We'll let you know when construction begins. ;D

    • 5035 posts
    May 8, 2010 4:46 AM PDT
    Your boat design looks amazing.  Nice work.  Good to see a cover for protection from the sun and rain. 
    • 5130 posts
    May 8, 2010 5:13 AM PDT
    Kirk-that is truly amazing and I can't wait to see this project moving forward.

    Jumping ahead a bit to when the boat is ready for travel, what kinds of education strategies do you have in mind for using on the voyage?  What will you be able to do or show them that will be convincing enough to make them change old habits and realize the impact of dumping?
    • Moderator
    • 3727 posts
    May 8, 2010 6:24 AM PDT
    The strategy will be similar to the Helmets for Life campaign we did 4 years ago (wow, time flies!). Basically stopping at villages, along the river, and speaking with the locals and maybe going to a school or two. I'll talk with them about the river and how throwing trash in it is disrespectful and hurts their way of life. Since there's never been a campaign like this I'm pretty sure we'll be able to reach quite a few people.

    We're likely to get some media coverage too. Which will help reach the people who don't see the boat pass by.

    One thing we'll also do is have a loud speaker on the boat that will play a recorded message (Thai and Lao) which will encourage them to love and protect the river. We'll play the message any time we get near a populated area.

    I'm sure we'll get a lot of strange looks. But I'm also sure we'll get a lot of thumbs-up too! ;D
    • 1 posts
    May 8, 2010 2:36 PM PDT
    What a fantastic idea, Kirk -  Isara never ceases to amaze me!  I'll blog about this on the Nong Khai Information website... 
    By the way, our Nong Khai maps are (finally) back from the printer and our staff are now busy folding them...  I'll drop by in the next day or two.
    • 74 posts
    May 8, 2010 7:52 PM PDT
    This really is amazing,looks very high tech.Is it going to be expensive to make ?
    It is going to be a fantastic adventure and for a worthy cause.
    • Moderator
    • 3727 posts
    May 8, 2010 8:08 PM PDT
    Alec - That's great news. Every volunteer here gets a Nong Khai Information map and they love it. See you soon! leon - Fortunately, when you don't have any money (like us) then nothing we do is as expensive because we couldn't afford it otherwise. lol Like most of our projects, we have to get creative with the funding. In this case, it's going to be made of second-hand wood donated by local shops. All the parts (nails, screws, paint, etc.) will also be donated. The expensive parts are the parts we can't see; the electric engine and batteries. But we're pretty sure the shops will give us a generous discount or we'll have each shop donate one battery (we'll need 6-8 total). Update: We just received a $50 donation from Jody Ross and her San Diego Women's Club to help get the boat made. Thanks, Jody!!
    • Moderator
    • 7061 posts
    May 9, 2010 3:48 AM PDT
    Thanks San Diego Women's club! Just think! One day, after Kirk goes on this adventure, writes a book, and it gets published, then your book club can read about it's philanthropic nature and discuss it over coffee! And the world goes round! :D

    On the boat specs it looked as though there are solar panels on the top, am I imagining things, or are those just panels to keep things protected?
    • 5130 posts
    May 9, 2010 4:14 AM PDT
    Ginafish said:
    On the boat specs it looked as though there are solar panels on the top, am I imagining things, or are those just panels to keep things protected?
    That's the same thing I said, Ginafish. haha!  I went back up to Kirk's original post and re-read it to see that he did mention it would be a carbon neutral footprint vessel with solar panel, wind generators, electric engine, and second hand wood, etc.  Very cool! I am excited to see what he names her!  :D
    • 1091 posts
    May 10, 2010 1:06 AM PDT
    An amazing idea to help the Mekong River. I can feel that the river can't take it any more. Good luck with the project. It's gonna be good and fun. :)
    • Moderator
    • 3727 posts
    May 23, 2010 10:01 PM PDT

    Until we hear back from the boat builder, we thought it would be fun to start experimenting with different bottle designs.

    Of course, building it on the computer is the easy part. The hard part is putting hammer to nail and making the drawing into a reality. So today we started putting hammers and nails together to build a sample pontoon (100 bottles) to see how much weight a bundle of plastic bottles can hold.

    For the sample we experimented with different bottle layouts to see which would be the most efficient and practical. Cylindrical was the easiest to make but connecting the rest of the boat to it would have been very difficult.

    We also tested a trapezoid shape which turned out ok.

    A rectangle will hold more bottles and create more buoyancy, but it has more drag. So we're not sure if the pontoons will end up being a rectangle or trapezoid shape. Hmmm...

    Once the sample raft (100 bottles) is built we will post photos of it floating (fingers crossed).

  • C F
    • 25 posts
    May 28, 2010 12:23 AM PDT
    I can't believe Kirk was doing this today in Isara's backyard, when most people have the flu they stay in bed! You inspire us man :)
    • Moderator
    • 1534 posts
    May 24, 2010 4:09 AM PDT
    Here is one with round pontoons...