In the first study of its kind, a group of researchers will survey the amount of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes throughout the month of July. The project is headed by Professor Sherri "Sam" Mason of SUNY Fredonia, a liberal arts college in New York, who found that despite being the largest fresh water system in the world, the Great Lakes had never been studied for plastics.
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An estimated 35 million people live in proximity to the Great Lakes and Mason predicted those numbers would translate to significant plastic pollution levels.
The three week project is a joint effort between SUNY Fredonia and the 5 Gyres Institute, a plastic pollution research and education group. In addition to measuring the amount of micro plastics in three of the five lakes, the study will also examine the quantity of plastic being ingested by fish. Communication Director for 5 Gyres, Stiv Wilson, states that:
Plastic attracts a lot of persistent organic pesticides and the plastic particles in the lake concentrate these pesticides. The fish we eat consume this plastic. We want to look at plastic ingestion in the fish and how that travels up the food chain to humans.
Every year one million aquatic animals die due to plastic pollution, most of which is composed of virtually indestructible petroleum plastic. As plastic litter tumbles in the water it never degrades but instead breaks down in to little pieces which animals then fatally consume.
For years Professor Mason advised students and residents to use reusable bags, avoid plastic products and stop using plastic bags to better preserve the lakes. Although Mason predicts the size of this study will leave more to be desired, she thinks it’s a good way to get the ball rolling:
The reality is you have to have something published in a peer-reviewed journal before anyone kind of believes it and takes it on. We will become the literature.
According to the EPA only 8% of plastics are recycled and the rest often get swept into waterways. Plastic bags in particular are often mistaken for food by turtles and other marine life. Among the states surrounding the Great Lakes, only four communities in the State of New York have targeted the issue of plastic bag pollution, either by adopting or approving plastic bag bans in their region.
Plastic marine pollution is an often unseen but alarming marine problem that’s growing worse everyday. A week and a half ago the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pulled 50 tons of garbage out of the Pacific Ocean, the highest ever in their 16 years of annual cleanups. In California, 50 communities have bans on plastic bags and Assembly Bill 298, a statewide plastic bag ban, is headed to the Senate committee on appropriations on August 6.
The oceans and lakes are ours to protect.
If you live in California, send an AB 298 support letter to your representative.
If you live in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin; protect your lakes and urge your representatives to take a stand against plastic pollution!