Interview by Sophie Grut
Entrepreneur and water activist Pascal Rösler completed a 63-day journey on the river Isar and Danube from Munich to the Black Sea. The goal of the two-month journey was to draw attention to the ever-growing pollution problem in our oceans and rivers and also to share his mission that we’ll be able to drink water from the Danube River again in 25 years. –SG
What inspired you to start Pure Water For Generations and where did the journey begin?
I grew up with avid windsurfing parents, so water has always been a big part of my life. During my banking career, I came across 'Let My People Go Surfing' by Patagonia founder Ivon Chouinard, which had a profound effect on me and raised a question, 'What did I really want to achieve during my time on Earth?' My dream was to start my own organization that focused on water. In 2016, during a paddle trip on Lake Sternberg, I had the idea to gather Euros for every kilometer that I paddled to help fund water projects worldwide.
What triggered you to paddle 2467 kilometers along the Isar and Danube from Munich to the Black Sea?
The idea was born out of a dream to paddle this route and grow awareness around the need to protect our waters. Only a few decades ago it was possible to drink water from the Danube River. During an interview with Bogdan Verbina (President Federation of Organisations of Producers of Fish in the Delta), he stated that as a child he was able to drink from the Danube River. Fisherman always drank from where they fished, because the water from the lakes and rivers were clear and very good. However, that's not possible today.
When you're paddling long hours over many days – what keeps you motivated?
I believe that when we push ourselves to our limits, our challenges turn into some of the most incredible experiences in our lives. When you're paddling the best part of 8 to 10 hours a day and you can't drink the water from the river you're paddling on, this makes you realize that there is a much bigger problem at hand. So for me, this 2464-kilometer journey only marks the beginning of a much bigger quest that keeps me going.
What was the general feedback from locals you met along your journey?
Locals who have a connection to nature and are directly linked to the Danube were positive about the need for change and prepared to do whatever it takes. Many inhabitants along the river remember a time when the water was clean and drinkable, however they would never drink from it today.
When I asked if they think the problem is reversible and we could drink the water again in 25 years, they confidently stated that this would be impossible. Sadly, polluted rivers and oceans have become the norm in people's minds.
From your experience of speaking with sustainability experts and researchers, can our rivers be drinkable again?
Absolutely – by changing consumer habits, taking waste and plastic out of our rivers and oceans, and ensuring the water is protected from the source. People need to understand the problem from the root and that it is within our power to change our habits and help clean our waters.
The bigger picture is that there isn't a strong enough focus on nature. The focus is still too much on business and fiscal gains. People who live in nature, grow their own food and live off the land understand the need to protect it. However, societies today are totally disconnected from nature and the reality is that we do not see what is happening around us and likely we don't really want to know about it.
What is next on the horizon for you?
For actions and decisions, I like to trust my gut and go with the flow. From September 2-9, I will paddle along one of the tributaries of the Danube – the Salzach – to keep raising awareness around waste and encourage a more sustainable way of using water resources.
Raising Awareness With Pure Water For Generations
Thanks to Pascal's journey to the Black Sea and donations received, a short film documenting the 63-day standup paddle excursion has been produced and aired in 25 cinemas across Europe, reaching more than 3000 people.
"People seem to get it and are genuinely moved by the 2467-kilometer Journey to the Black Sea, and I think people are realizing that we need to do something here. Plastic is now a social problem and nature is the only thing we have. It's completely in our hands to protect it.”