Thursday, August 8, 2013
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) sets sail today on a mission to find plastics in Lake Michigan. The trip is a part of a larger effort to determine if the plastics and microplastics that have been found in the world's oceans are an issue in the Great Lakes too. Sampling kicked off last year with research trips on Lakes Huron, Superior, and Erie. What they discovered came as a bit of a surprise–millions of tiny plastic particles floating in the water in even higher concentrations than in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The first round of sampling revealed that the lakes are home to 1,500 to 1.7 million plastic particles per square mile, with Lake Erie housing the largest concentrations. Dr. Sherri "Sam" Mason of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia, Dr. Lorena Rios-Mendoza of University of Wisconsin, and Dr. Marcus Erikson of 5 Gyres Institute have determined that much of what they found are actually microbeads found in many brands of toothpaste and facial and body scrubs. These tiny pieces of plastic are less than a millimeter in diameter, too small to be filtered out at wastewater treatment facilities before treated water is released into nearby lakes and rivers.
IISG's Anjanette Riley and Laura Kammin, along with researchers from SUNY at Fredonioa and 5 Gyres Institute, are out on Lake Michigan this week to see how the plastic load there compares to some of its sister lakes. The crew will collect approximately 20 samples between now and August 10 as they zigzag their way across southern Lake Michigan. Dr. Mason will process the samples in the coming months.
The research team also plans to extend the project to Lake Ontario and get a second round of samples from Lake Erie later this summer.
You can follow Anjanette and Laura throughout the trip on Facebook and Twitter (@IISG UnwatedMeds).