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This year’s Swim Across America will not only raise funds to fight cancer when the annual event crosses Lake Michigan Saturday, it will further a budding scientific understanding about the sources and implications of plastic debris littering Great Lakes waters.
Researchers from the Alliance for the Great Lakes will be aboard a boat accompanying swimmers during the 17- to 21-hour Swim Across Lake Michigan relay swim, and will periodically net for debris in the lake’s open waters.
The samples will be analyzed by researchers at State University of New York-Fredonia to learn about the distribution of microplastic particles in the Great Lakes, as well as their composition and fate in the environment.
Part of the first concerted effort to investigate the transport and fate of plastic litter in the open waters of the Great Lakes, this will be one of three Great Lakes research expeditions led by SUNY-Fredonia Professor Sherri Mason this summer; two others are planned on Lake Ontario and elsewhere on Lake Michigan. Mason’s first such trip took her along Lakes Superior, Huron and Erie last summer.
“It’s no secret that trash washes up on the beaches and shorelines of the Great Lakes, but how much of it ends up in the water and what happens to it when it does is actually not well documented,” says Alliance staff scientist Olga Lyandres, who will be joined on the trip by the Alliance’s Dale Bryson Water Quality intern, Abhilasha Shrestha. “This information is critical to understanding how to prevent it, as well as the potential damage it may be causing the ecosystem.”
Lyandres notes that though a lot of attention has been focused on this kind of pollution in the oceans, the Great Lakes are only now starting to gain attention.
Learning more about the types of debris in the Great Lakes and its impact is the first step toward stopping it from becoming a bigger problem. To that end, the Alliance has succeeded in establishing Great Lakes debris on the radar of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has studied ocean debris for years. 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 fishing and navigation safety.
Data on shoreline litter collected by the more than 10,000 participants in the Alliance’s Adopt-a-Beach™ Program has helped drive that awareness, as the Alliance uses data logged by cleanup volunteers to further public understanding about the sources of Great Lakes litter and how to prevent it.
Participants in the Swim Across Lake Michigan relay will swim from Chicago’s Burnham Harbor and finish 17-21 hours later in Michiana, Mich. The event is scheduled to start in the wee hours of Saturday morning, shortly after midnight Friday.
Swimmers across the country are participating in the relay to raise funds to fight cancer. Proceeds from the swim will support early-stage cancer research and clinical trials at Rush University Cancer Center in Chicago. Magellan Development, owner and developer of Chicago’s prominent Aqua Tower and a company committed to clean water and sustainable urban development in Chicago, is underwriting the swim costs.
Anyone interested in supporting a swimmer is invited to visit the race’s website.
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