Late last semester, your JCU environmentalist woke up at 9 a.m. on a Sunday and took a trip up to Lake Erie to participate in a beach cleanup. The beach cleanup is part of an ongoing effort the JCU Environmental Issues Group is undertaking with The Alliance for the Great Lakes to help protect the largest system of liquid freshwater on Earth.
While many of us, myself included, take the Great Lakes for granted, they are one of the most valuable natural resources in the world. Most of us are familiar with the effect the Great Lakes have on our weather here in Cleveland. The Great Lakes provide shipping lanes, help regulate the weather, provide drinking water and offer great fisheries, just to name a few of the benefits.
A 2011 study conducted by the University of Michigan through the Michigan Sea Grant found that wages alone from the Great Lakes related jobs make up $62 billion – just for 2009. The Great Lakes aren’t just nice to have around – they are essential to the 37 million people who live in the Great Lakes area, according to the EPA.
However, the Great Lakes are in trouble from pollution and invasive species. To help mitigate the danger, events like beach cleanups are held. They serve as a way to not only clean the lakes, but raise awareness and help check up on the lakes. Water quality tests are performed, as well as an inventory of how much and what type of garbage was found.
Plastic, by far, makes up the largest percentage of trash found. The vast majority of this are little things, such as bottle caps, cigarette butts and tampon applicators.
Seeing all of this garbage really does put the impact humans have on the environment into perspective. It’s not a bottle here or there. You see millions of pieces of plastic. This kind of pollution is not just a problem in the Great Lakes, but also in the oceans. This sort of small trash is more devastating to an ecosystem than big things. Birds especially will confuse small brightly colored pieces of plastic for food and eat them. This kills the birds, creating a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem. And with an ecosystem as valuable as the Great Lakes, we cannot afford to let it go down the drain.
Stay classy, and stay green, JCU.
Editor’s Note: Information for this article was found on miseagrant.umich.edu and epa.gov.