For long-time Medford UMC member Margo Pellegrino, environmental issues have always concerned her. And in the midst of the 2016 presidential election, this Medford Lakes resident found it imperative to stress the need for global awareness, particularly regarding water quality issues. The ocean activist recently set off on a two-month journey paddling from Chicago to New Orleans “to emphasize the importance and raise awareness of the nation’s water crisis.”
“It is off the charts how important this election year is. Our nation’s water is in crisis. Look at Flint, Michigan; look at our dying rivers like the Rio Grande to our ailing coastal waters and our ocean. We have all got to do something. Aging sewer plants, agricultural runoff, polluting industry, plastic pollution. It all needs to be addressed. We need to be asking our elected officials about where they stand on our nation’s water, both salt and fresh because this impacts everyone’s lives,” she said.
Pellegrino left on August 10 from the Lincoln Park Boathouse in Chicago in her 20-foot outrigger canoe and finished her journey to New Orleans on September 24. To date, Pellegrino has paddled more than 5,000 miles of the country’s coast.
“I have been paddling since I was twelve-years-old not but not competitively until 2006. I have been making long paddle journeys since 2007,” she said. “My Miami to Maine trip in 2007 was the longest one.”
Some of her past trips include Long Beach Island, New Jersey to Washington, D.C., Seattle to San Diego, Miami to New Orleans and Cape May, New Jersey to Montauk, New York.
Her current trip will complete her three summer trip to spread the “clean water and healthy ocean message to the inland waterways,” according to Blue Frontier of which she is a Blue Frontier Ocean Explorer. Founded in 2003 by author and journalist David Helvarg, Blue Frontier “builds the solution-oriented citizen engagement needed to protect our oceans, coasts, and the communities, both human and wild that depend on them.”
“Margo’s paddle is our paddle,” Blue Frontier states on its website. “Together we can educate the public and our elected officials, and show them that there is a growing constituency for our water from our watersheds into our rivers, lakes, and bays to our ocean.”
As part of her three-summer voyage, Pellegrino has also paddled from Trenton to Newark in 2014 and 2015 from New York City to Chicago via the Hudson River, the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes.
When asked as to why she became an activist, Pellegrino said, “I have always been an animal lover, a lover of people and our natural world. But it wasn’t until after my father died that I felt called into action. My dad loved the ocean and our water. He also loved people and would do whatever he could to help those he met who were in need. His passing left a big hole in my heart, and I felt I needed to continue his legacy of helping others. I love to paddle and thought it would be amazing if I could paddle for a cause. People depend on water for life and that clean water, and access to it is threatened all over the world as well as in our country. So water and the ocean became to me the cause to push for. We all need water to live.”
Concerning training, Pellegrino prepares for the long journey by “trying to paddle as much as possible – run, bike, anything.”
“It is fairly rigorous though it can be in spurts. The weather, the wind, the currents, and the tides all play a part in either helping you or hurting you. I train as much as possible, about four months beforehand,” she continued.
Rev. Joseph Monahan, Medford UMC pastor, said he is quite impressed with Pellegrino’s accomplishments.
“It’s a remarkable feat. I am always struck by how supporting her is a whole family effort. Margo is so passionate. It may seem like an odd way to make a point, these long paddles, but she is able to meet people and talk about the impact of all these challenges to sustainability. She also learns about what is happening in local communities by doing these paddles. She also has these amazing experiences of making personal connections along the way,” he said.
Faith does play a significant role in her passion for the environment and Monahan believes that there is “great reliance on God in overcoming the fear of all the challenges you can face, for example, lightning storms.”
“I also think the isolation and repetitiveness of being out on the water give her an opportunity to be quiet and meditative. Then, there’s this deep connection with people as she goes out and sometimes has to trust the kindness of strangers who step up to help with certain dimensions of the trip,” Monahan said.
“I believe God didn’t give us this beautiful earth for us to trash it and its water,” Pellegrino added. “He gave us this earth with the responsibility that we be good stewards of it. We need to take care of it so it can continue to provide for us.”