Tag: Alliance for the Great Lakes

Call to Action: Ban Balloon Releases that Kill Birds and Other Wildlife

By Lara O’Brien

Every day, balloons and balloon ribbons and strings are discovered littering the waters and shorelines of the Great Lakes. Between 2016 and 2018, volunteers with the Alliance for the Great Lakes picked up more than 18,000 pieces of balloon debris during coastal cleanups.

Mylar balloons, made from nylon with a metallic coating, will never biodegrade. While latex balloons are said to be biodegradable, they still take many years to break down. Latex balloons also burst into small pieces that are easily mistaken for food by birds and other wildlife, often with fatal consequences. Balloon debris also includes long ribbons and strings, which can entangle birds and other wildlife, causing serious injury or death.

In order to collect more data about the environmental impact of balloons and balloon releases in the Great Lakes region, I recently created a web survey that can be used to record the date, location, condition, and photo of any balloon debris found. The website, BalloonDebris.org, has a link to the survey and an interactive map of the balloon debris sightings. There are also ideas for eco-friendly alternatives, including how to make your own giant bubble recipe and wand, luminaries, kites, and even crochet water balloons.

The site also includes information on how to get more involved, including how to sign up and participate in the upcoming International Coastal Cleanup Day on September 21. In collaboration with the International Coastal Cleanup, the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ September Adopt-a-Beach Event also will be held the same day. Here is a link to more information on how you can find a beach cleanup near you or how you can organize your own.

Awareness is growing, and a handful of states, including California, Florida, and Tennessee, have passed legislation banning balloon releases. Michigan, however, is not one of them. My hope is that by engaging and participating in this citizen science research, more people will become aware of how pervasive balloon pollution is in the Great Lakes and have a greater understanding of the impact balloons and balloon releases have on the environment and wildlife. Hopefully, this will lead to changes in behavior and changes in policy.

Help raise awareness by learning more about the impact of balloon releases, using green alternatives, and talking with friends and family. You also can reach out to your local leaders at the city, village, township, or county level and urge them to take action to prohibit mass balloon releases and help support statewide Michigan legislation. Lara O’Brien

Lara O’Brien is a master’s student at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS). Focusing on Conservation Ecology and Environmental Informatics, her studies aim to utilize GIS and remote sensing technologies to enhance conservation efforts, natural resource management, and public engagement and appreciation of the natural world.

Beach Cleanups Protect Water and Health and Raise Awareness

By Holly Wright

The excitement when packing for a trip to the beach is palpable; we select our favorite sun hats, towels and snacks while our children gleefully nestle toys and buckets for sand castles into the day bag. We hope that the sun will shine bright and Lake Michigan not be too frigid or choppy; and we expect that the beach where we recreate and relax will be clean and safe for our families.

The reality is that many of our Michigan beaches are sullied by refuse and littered with food wrappers, soggy cigarette butts, and small plastic pieces of mysterious origin. In an extreme case, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore staff found thousands of pieces of broken glass deliberately spread in April on the Lake Michigan beach near the Good Harbor picnic area.

Whether littered on-site or carried from elsewhere in the watershed, unsanitary garbage on our coasts puts-off beach-goers and infringes upon the public’s right to enjoy the shoreline—a great Michigan summertime tradition that’s protected by the public trust doctrine.

Upon entering a body of water, these bottle caps, balloon fragments and straws tangled in summer berms pose another danger to the health of wildlife and people, threatening public trust uses as waves, wind and sun break down materials into small pieces called “microplastics”. Microplastics are known to be harmful to wildlife and are present in Great Lakes drinking water. The prevalence of plastics on our shorelines and in our waters has prompted local beach cleanup efforts.

Microplastics Present in the Great Lakes

The general awareness of plastic pollution in earth’s oceans (and scientific study of the issue) currently exceeds the awareness and scientific understanding of the effects of microplastics (including microfibers) in the freshwaters of the Great Lakes. As USGS put it, “the microplastics story is large and complex”.

But we do know that microplastics are present in our waters.

A United States Geological Survey (USGS) page based on a 2016 study emphasized that one plastic particle per gallon of water was found in Great Lakes Tributary Water; 1,285 particles were found per square foot in river sediment. 112,000 particles were found per square mile of Great Lakes water. Since 2016, plastics have continued to accumulate in the Great Lakes.

Microplastics and Wildlife, Human Health

The Great Lakes support a multitude of wildlife; aquatic insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds; and provide drinking water for approximately 40 million people human and non-human species alike, we all need water to survive; our health is interconnected within the hydrosphere.

Freshwater and marine aquatic wildlife have displayed ill effects from ingesting microplastics. According to National Geographic, “Experiments show that microplastics damage aquatic creatures, as well as turtles and birds: they block digestive tracts, diminish the urge to eat, and alter feeding behavior, all of which reduce growth and reproductive output. Their stomachs stuffed with plastic, some species starve and die.”

Chemical harm from ingesting microplastic causes further concern. Heavy metals, flame retardants and antimicrobials which adhere to plastic surfaces have been associated with endocrine disruption in humans and cancer (via National Geographic).

Since the composition of plastic materials varies greatly, estimating toxicity of plastic is difficult, as is predicting toxicity as chemicals move up, through the food web; and eventually to us, through consumption of wildlife (via National Public Radio).

Drinking Water

We who drink Great Lakes water are ingesting microplastics through our taps. So miniscule in size, microplastics pass through water treatment facilities and into our cups. Microplastics are even turning up in beer brewed from Great Lakes water.

Opting for bottled water may not decrease the risk of ingesting microplastics; in fact, total microplastics in bottled water are evidenced to exceed microplastics in tap water.

Beach Cleanups

Performing beach cleanups supports our community’s right to enjoy our shorelines and can prevent the introduction of some plastics into the Great Lakes. Alliance for the Great Lakes reports that every year, through its “Adopt-a-Beach” program, “15,000 volunteers hit the beach and remove about 18 tons of trash.”

Photos courtesy of NMC Freshwater Society

Mike Seefried and Kathryn Depauw, NMC Freshwater Studies students and members of the NMC Freshwater Society, are participating in the “Adopt-a-Beach” effort this summer by coordinating community beach cleanups.

Seefried and Depauw collected a total 24.36 pounds of trash during their June 1 cleanup at Bryant Park in Traverse City. Local organizations supported the initiative; collection buckets were provided by the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Center. Volunteers, equipped with gloves and data sheets, combed the shoreline public park and, over an approximate area of 550 feet, removed 707 cigarette filters, 236 foam pieces, and 459 plastic pieces. “When you’re actually on the ground picking it up, there’s kind of a ‘wow’ factor—of how much is actually there,” said Seefried.

A June 29 cleanup performed at Sunset Park yielded 387 cigarette butts, 227 pieces of small foam, and 253 small plastic pieces. Seventy-five food wrappers were also picked up over the area of 261 feet. At the end of the process, 11.7 pounds of trash no longer littered the park—an immediate benefit to the community.

Beach. Cleaning Opportunities, Tools

All are welcomed to participate in future cleanups initiated by NMC’s Freshwater Society. Visit the Freshwater Society’s Facebook page for upcoming cleanup event information.

FLOW can equip you with beach cleanup kits (containing items such as gloves, pencils, clipboards, data sheets, trash bags, and buckets) to use independently. FLOW’s Lauren Hucek encourages anyone interested to rally their friends, families, and coworkers to host their own beach cleanups. Please choose sites that offer public waste receptacles or prepare to dispose of trash privately; recycle when possible. Email Lauren Hucek with questions and requests for kits, or call the FLOW office at 231-944-1568.

Raising Awareness

Plastic is so ingrained and pervasive in our systems, can the independent effort of individuals cleaning beaches make any difference? Are beach cleanups effective?

“Honestly, I think we take the beaches in our area for granted a little bit,” said Seefried. “The point of this work is to clean the beach—but also to raise awareness.”

We know that plastics are in our water—and in our bodies. We know that microplastics are harmful to wildlife, and that it is not understood how they may be harmful to people. But there’s something about actually picking through the refuse on our beaches that sticks with us; we wonder, will a fiber of this cigarette butt; this lost sock; this disposable diaper; one day slip down someone’s throat via a glass of drinking water?

Performing beach cleanups prompts us to consider our own choices and to get involved with the overarching threat to Great Lakes water, wildlife, and our own health—plastics.

Wisconsin Pauses Great Lakes Tar Sands

Congratulations to Alliance for the Great Lakes, citizens and organizations in Wisconsin and Michigan, and Council of Canadians for leading the way to deny Elkhorn’s request to improve a barge dock in Superior, Wisconsin to transport dirty tar sands oil over the Great Lakes.  With citizen vigilance, persistence, and growing awareness that these Great Lakes are a commons held and treasured as a perpetual public trust for benefit of all citizens, proposals to put the Great Lakes in harms way like this will more and more fall by the wayside treating these precious waters as a trust for each generation.  A basic principle of public trust and commons law and policy is the standard that requires full and complete information proving and assuring that a proposal, if authorized, will not violate or impair this public trust. If that cannot be shown, then it is never proper and should note be authorized. A huge thank you to Wisconsin Ministry of Natural Resources for holding Elkhorn to this standard.

 

Media Release via Council of Canadians

January 9, 2014

Council of Canadians applauds Wisconsin government pausing Great Lakes tar sands project

The Council of Canadians is congratulating Wisconsin’s Ministry of Natural Resources on its decision to reject Elkhorn Industries’ application for dock repairs that would eventually lead to the construction of an oil terminal from which tar sands and fracked oil would be shipped across the Great Lakes.

“We are heartened that the Wisconsin government has listened to the local community as well as communities around the Great Lakes,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “The Ministry is doing the right thing by pressing pause on this bigger project to ask more questions about the plan to ship tar sands and fracked oil through the Great Lakes.”

Media reports noted that public comments influenced the agency’s decision to demand much more information from Elkhorn Industries.

“The fight to protect the Great Lakes from irresponsible and short-sighted oil projects is far from over,” says Emma Lui, Water Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Calumet’s oil barge dock is on the radar of U.S., Indigenous and Canadian groups and communities, and Calumet can expect a lot of noise if it tries to push this plan through.”

Earlier this year Calumet Specialty Products announced it was considering an oil shipping terminal at the harbour in Superior, Wisconsin, which is located on the western tip of Lake Superior. That same week, Elkhorn Industries submitted a permit application for a $25-million upgrade to its dock, which is connected by an existing pipeline to Calumet’s 45,000 barrels per day refinery in Superior.

In December, the Council of Canadians, on behalf of 16 of its local chapters and tens of thousands of supporters around the Great Lakes, made a submission to the Ministry raising concerns about the threats the project presented to the Great Lakes, the increase in tar sands expansion and the need to obtain free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous communities like the Bad River Band. The Council urged the Ministry “to stop this dock repair project and shut down the broader oil terminal and shipment project in order to protect the Great Lakes and other shared waterways.”

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Dylan Penner, Media Officer, Council of Canadians, (613) 795-8685
dpenner@canadians.org | www.canadians.org/greatlakes | Twitter: @CouncilOfCDNs