How a team of fifth graders is helping to clean up New York’s Hudson River

This post highlights the 2018-19 GeoChallenge nationals winners, The Navigators: Natanel Rozic, Jeremiah Pierre, Alex Jun, and Victor Jimenez 


Students in grades four through eight can tackle real-world issues just like National Geographic Explorers by participating in the National Geographic GeoChallenge. Teams between four and six students engage in a project-based, multilevel competition focused on developing creative solutions to today’s urgent environmental problems. Those with the best projects advance to the regional and national levels of the competition, and 2019’s grand prize winners were New York fifth graders The Navigators.

The 2019 National Geographic GeoChallenge winners, The Navigators, pose for a photo with their trophy in Washington, D.C. Photo by Rebecca Hale

The 2018-19 Tackling Plastic! GeoChallenge focused on the problem of plastic pollution in our waterways. The Navigators’ winning solution was a model of a device to collect plastic debris from New York’s Hudson River through filters attached to boats, helping to address the effects of plastic pollution on aquatic life. Since winning National Geographic’s first Geo Championships in May 2019, the team members have continued to work on and improve their GeoChallenge project supported by a $25,000 implementation award from the National Geographic Society. 

Following advice from a scientist, a custom boat builder, and various filter manufacturer engineers, the team met with National Geographic Explorer Rachael Miller, co-founder of the Rozalia Project. Rachael and the Rozalia Project team have played a major role in mentoring The Navigators. In July 2019, The Navigators were welcomed aboard Rachael’s research vessel, American Promise. Rachael and her crew of researchers gave a tour of the ship and its equipment before putting Jeremiah, Natanel, Victor, and Alex to work sampling water from the Hudson River. In addition, the team members discussed The Green Manta (the microplastic filter solution the team created), and sought her advice on equipment, testing protocols, and how to patent/trademark their device. In October 2019, Rachael and The Navigators met via Skype to review the team’s progress in the device design and project plan.

The Navigators pose with National Geographic Explorer Rachael Miller on her research vessel, American Promise. Photo by Adam Steckley

Those conversations helped the team progress to the next stage of project development. Ultimately, they will be using real working parts to remove microplastics from the Hudson River. A small filter chamber will vacuum microplastics from the surface of the water, which will then be filtered into a collection system that will release clean water back into the river. The team is in the midst of getting the parts to assemble a prototype. National Geographic engineers will review the prototype and provide technical assistance.

Between their hectic school schedules and evolving GeoChallenge implementation project, the team members were able to sit down and share their advice for other students looking to change the world. 

The Navigators on reducing plastic use: The team members were unanimous. The four encourage their peers to use reusable bags, bottles, and containers when possible and avoid using plastic cutlery, cups, and straws during meals. 

The Navigators on saving the environment: Aside from reducing plastic use and finding more ways to use reusable items, the team members advocate for students to persevere and know that their solutions and actions are just as important as adults’. 

The Navigators on the importance of removing plastic from the world’s waterways: The students highlighted the importance of protecting the overall fish population and marine life to further preserve the Earth. 


Registration for the 2019-20 National Geographic GeoChallenge is open through Thursday, December 12. Sign your team up today and support your students as they create a solution to change the world. 

Feature image by Mark Thiessen

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