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For years Jamie Cross has worked with the Alliance’s volunteer beach adopters, overseeing thousands of Great Lakes beach cleanups and ensuring that each piece of litter and debris collected is dutifully recorded in an ever-expanding database.Aware of efforts under way at the national and international levels to collect data on debris found in the world’s oceans, Cross attended the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup conferences and the 2011 International Marine Debris Conference, speaking passionately about the need for the problem of Great Lakes debris to find its place on the national radar as well.A 2011 workshop in Ann Arbor, Mich. funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration succeeded in bringing together the Great Lakes marine debris community, and was a testament to Cross’s vision and the work of the Alliance’s more than 10,000 Adopt-a-Beach™ volunteers. Subsequent meetings have built on that first effort, the brainchild of the Alliance and NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. “We’re thrilled NOAA is in the Great Lakes and taking up this issue so seriously,” says Cross, who has gained special insight into the problem of trash and debris on Great Lakes shorelines in her role as manager of the Adopt-a-Beach™ Program. “Getting a handle on the debris that flows into the Great Lakes is critical not only to lake aesthetics, but to lake health.”Learning more about the various types of debris in the Great Lakes and its impact is the first step toward doing something about it before it becomes a bigger problem. To that end, Cross was invited to co-host a workshop with NOAA in Cleveland last month to develop an action plan addressing land-based debris in the Great Lakes.“There really hasn’t been much information on debris in the Great Lakes beyond what volunteers like those involved in Adopt-a-Beach™ have collected,” notes Cross, who says many years’ worth of Adopt-a-Beach™ data is helping to fill that void. More monitoring and research is needed to improve the consistency of the data about what's out there, however, and to learn more about potential impacts and solutions – such as how to curb or prevent debris from getting into the Great Lakes in the first place. NOAA has identified the Great Lakes as a priority because of the potential effects of waterborne debris on the environment and wildlife, as well as on navigation safety and fishing. The three most common types of debris in the Great Lakes identified to date: land-based debris that washes out to open water, derelict commercial and recreational fishing gear, and sawmill debris.“The key to tackling any type of marine debris is collaboration at all levels: local, state and federal,” says Sarah Opfer, Great Lakes regional coordinator for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. “These meetings and action plans are an effort to bring these groups together to work to solve the problem.”
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