December 01, 2016
An exhibit now on display in Superior encourages viewers to take an active role in preventing trash from reaching Lake Superior. The exhibit features all the plastic collected by Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza and a group of UW-Superior students on Wisconsin Point on one day in September 2015. Designed by staff at the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Program, the mobile exhibit has been touring the region, collecting pledges to prevent trash in the Great Lakes. It can currently be viewed at the City of Superior Government Center atrium at 1316 N 14th St.
“Plastic trash in Lake Superior is a growing problem, but it’s almost 100% preventable if we can get everyone on board.” says Reserve education coordinator Deanna Erickson. “Individual actions really are what will make a difference for our drinking water and wildlife.” Citizens can protect water quality by using less plastic whenever possible, carrying reusable items like bags or utensils, or picking up trash to stop it from being washed down storm drains to the Lake.
Studies in recent years have found less plastic in Lake Superior compared to the other Great Lakes, but it is a problem that may become worse. An investigation of the content of fish stomachs conducted by Dr. Rios Mendoza at the University of Wisconsin Superior showed that 18% of the fish had small plastic pieces or fibers in their stomachs. Tiny microbeads, used as a scrubbing agent in beauty products, have also been found by sampling water in the Lake. Trash clean-ups conducted at Wisconsin Point by the Alliance for the Great Lakes in September 2016 show that cigarette filters, foam food containers, food wrappers, beverage cans and straws as well as small broken plastic pieces were the most common trash found in our area. Nationwide, 80% of trash cleaned off of beaches is plastic.
Plastic poses challenges because toxic pollutants like heavy metals can stick to the surface of plastic pieces, making it harder to ensure safe drinking water. Plastic can be eaten by fish and other animals and can cause entanglement. Plastic on beaches may also have a negative impact on tourism. The number one factor that people consider when deciding to visit a beach is its cleanliness.
With the headline “Plastic in Lake Superior. That’s Garbage.” the exhibit has already visited the Superior Library, University of Wisconsin-Superior and the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community
College. Following the City Center, the display will be at University of Minnesota Duluth beginning in mid-January. The City of Superior is sponsoring a talk about the issue by Dr. Rios Mendoza at the Superior Public Library on February 16th at 6pm.
The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve, a research program based at the UW-Superior and jointly operated by UW-Extension and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is a federal reserve encompassing over 16,000 acres along the St. Louis River freshwater estuary.