GREAT LAKES – The Alliance for the Great Lakes is celebrating a key milestone this year, as the organization’s Adopt-a-Beach data collection system turns 20 years old.
In the system, the Alliance and its volunteers gather data on the trash they collect and enter it into an online database. Scientists then use the data to learn more about the sources of Great Lakes pollution, making it easier for decision makers to create policies that protect these vital waterways that hold 90% of North America’s fresh surface water.
The database, which is the largest of its kind in the world, has information from all eight Great Lakes states. Since the data spans 20 years, scientists are able to track long-term pollution trends. Once a year, the data is also sent to the Ocean Conservancy, which keeps a global database of coastal litter.
As is the case globally, the biggest source of Great Lakes pollution is plastic. According to the Alliance, 81% of the trash collected in 2022 was plastic. This is not only an issue for wildlife such as fish and aquatic birds, it also affects the drinking water for over 40 million people who rely on the Great Lakes for their water supply.
The key is removing plastic items from the lakes before they are broken down into microplastics, which are particles less than five millimeters that can easily infiltrate water supplies or be ingested by wildlife. Adopt-a-Beach volunteers keep 15 tons of plastic pollution out of the Great Lakes each year.
Since the database began in 2003, the Alliance has removed over half a million pounds of litter from the Great Lakes, but more work still needs to be done to keep plastic out of the lakes. According to the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, 22 million pounds of plastics end up in the Great Lakes each year.
The Alliance will be holding upcoming cleanup events at several Sheboygan beaches, including Deland Park, General King Park, Lakeview Park and North Point Park and Cove. For sign-up information, visit adopt.greatlakes.org/s/find-a-cleanup.
The Alliance for the Great Lakes is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to protect the Great Lakes. This is done through the areas of advocacy and leadership, research and analysis, and education and action.
In 2022, the Alliance’s Adopt-a-Beach program held 944 beach cleanups attended by over 9,000 volunteers who logged 19,735 volunteer hours.
To learn more about the Alliance and its programs, visit greatlakes.org.
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