By: Maddy Marquardt | Overboard Pro
The Great Lakes Basin is a national treasure.
The area provides endless possibilities for appreciating freshwater through swimming, paddling and boating; however, the region has far more significance than recreation alone. We depend on freshwater for clean drinking water, and much of the Great Lakes Region is economically dependent on the lakes!
Unfortunately, our Great Lakes and inland waterways are threatened by pollution, development, and invasive species.
So how can you help?
10. Educate yourself
Something as simple as reading about issues affecting the Great Lakes region can help you to better understand the importance of your watershed and protecting it. In other words—being here and reading articles like this is already a step in the right direction!
9. Don’t litter
Trash left on the side of the road, trail or anywhere gets swept downstream and ends up in lakes and rivers. Trash isn’t just ugly—it can disrupt wildlife, and may take years to break down. Because plastics can take a long time to break down, they lead to long term pollution. To help protect against this, make sure that your plastic ends up in a recycling bin and not your watershed!
8. Pick up litter
Take it a step further—rather than just not littering yourself, pick up litter you find as well. You can help with this by hiking with a trash bag and cleaning as you go, participating in neighborhood clean ups, and picking up and properly disposing of garbage you see on a day to day basis.
7. Clean your boat
Following the steps of “clean, drain, dry, dispose” before boating can help protect against invasive species. Zebra mussels, native to the Black, Caspian, and Azoz Seas, will hitch a free ride on boats and spread from lake to lake, and can make it unsafe to walk on beaches as well. Invasive mussels are thought to have out-competed native mussels that act as a food source for lake whitefish, impacting fisheries.
6. Support natural shorelines
One of the primary reasons for no-wake zones is for public safety, but did you know wake from your boat can also damage delicate shoreline ecosystems? Wake can lead to increased erosion, which can damage natural shoreline ecosystems. While homeowners often opt for seawalls to combat erosion, seawalls often only make the problem worse, as waves bounce off the wall and further change the natural shoreline.
Furthermore, many species of fish spawn in these ecosystems, and various other species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians call these areas home. The plants and animals in these ecosystems are indicators of healthy water quality. By opting for natural shorelines and abiding by no-wake zones, you can help preserve these environments.
Support Michigan Overboard and our fight to keep Michigan pure!
5. Fight against Line 5
Along the bottom of the pristine Straits of Mackinac, 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas are pumped through two 65 year-old pipes each day. These pipes built in 1953 by Enbridge Inc., are part of a massive pipeline that transfers oil and other resources from its Canadian origin, through Michigan and then back to Canada.
While Enbridge, the same company involved in the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill, claims Line 5 is up to code, the pipeline is in a very sensitive area, and due to strong currents in the Straits of Mackinac, a spill would be astronomically difficult to clean up. For more information and to endorse a decommission plan, visit Oil and Water Don’t Mix.
4. Skip the plastic water bottles
Over half of plastic water bottles are not recycled, and health standards for these bottles are sometimes less strict than those for tap water. Bottling water can harm both the environment and personal health. Check out FLOW’s Get off the Bottle campaign for more information. Seeking an alternative? Check out a Michigan businesses leading the way in getting away from plastic water bottles, Boxed Water!
In addition, the purchasing of bottled water supports the idea that water is a product rather than a right— a potentially dangerous ideology that can lead to a near privatization of water and increased incidences like that seen with Nestlé’s success with increased water extraction.
3. Advocate against water diversion
With a growing world population, increased stress on the environment, and mounting anxiety regarding access to freshwater, one of largest threats to the Great Lakes region is water diversion. Early this April, Nestle Waters North America’s plan to divert 400 gallons of water per minute from Osceola County, an increase from the 250 gallons per minute the company previously withdrew.
While according to the Detroit Free Press Nestlé’s withdrawals still meet the requirements of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act and the withdrawals are legally in accordance with the 2008 Great Lakes Compact, this water diversion still raises other concerns. Our lakes are not an export, and water should not be a for profit enterprise; the Nestlé water withdrawals raise moral questions about whether or not water can be owned. In addition, these corporate withdrawals stand in stark contrast to the water crisis in Flint.
2. Spread awareness
Talk about the issues you learn about. Tell your friends and speak out about threats to the Great Lakes Region, share articles, and have conversations about the importance of clean water and The Great Lakes.
1. Get involved and/or donate
Getting involved with conservation organizations such as the non-profits in Michigan Overboard's donation portfolio: Huron Pines, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, The Watershed Center of Grand Traverse Bay and the WMEAC is a wonderful place to start.
Some other great organizations to check out are: For the Love of Water (FLOW) and Oil and Water Don’t Mix. They also work to protect the Great Lake's ecosystem and its freshwater. Getting involved with these organizations and helping fund these leaders in conservation are some of the best ways to help protect our watershed.
Still looking for a way to help? Consider buying a Michigan Overboard headband or decal! We donate 21% of our annual profits to a collection of Michigan non-profits that fight for water conservation!
Maddy is a student at Michigan State University with a passion for writing, the outdoors and everything Michigan. Follow her adventures on Instagram, @maddymarq