Microplastic has been polluting our oceans for quite some time now. Microplastic pollution is plastic debris less than five millimeters in size. When you think of plastic pollution, you probably envision the ocean. Well, this tiny plastic debris has found its way into our lakes and rivers too.
In the past five years, researchers have started studying the sources and effects of microplastics found in freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems, but the research is still new and cannot tell us much yet. What we do know, though, is that Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, and our plastic consumption is astronomical.
In North America specifically, the Great Lakes are among the biggest sources of fresh water on the whole continent. Over one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, they hold billions of dollars in economic activity. They are often known as a large point of pride for those who live along their shorelines.
There are more than 75 First Nations communities around the Great Lakes that fish and participate in other water activities. Roughly 13.4% of the American population participated in water sports in 2017 alone, and a lot of them were likely on freshwater lakes.
Lots of people like to vacation on the Great Lakes as well and do things like fishing, swimming, and even scuba diving. Vacations are the activity that makes families the happiest as 37% of families say that vacations make them happy. How happy can they be when they vacation on a lake that is polluted so badly? Through a flat scuba mask, the plastic objects appear 34% bigger and 25% closer while underwater, so imagine what a shock that would be.
While the Great Lakes have been known for ecological problems in the past, like invasive species and reduced ice cover, microplastic pollution may have been the most shocking. A recent study found that some of the more heavily urbanized areas, like Toronto and Detroit, have the highest concentrations of microplastic.
Another study found a liter of sediment from the St. Lawrence River has up to 1,000 spherical microplastics, which is about what the world’s most polluted marine sediments have. These microplastics are incredibly dangerous for wildlife that inhabit the freshwater ecosystems.
Roughly 45% of captured sunfish in a Texas river basin has consumed microplastics, and another study found that 12% of gudgeons in a French stream also had microplastics in their gut.
The environmentalists invested in the Great Lakes are now calling on scientists to do something about the condition of our lakes. We are using plastic at an unprecedented rate, and 79% of our landfills are filled with recyclable plastics. Canda has recently stepped up to take leadership in preventing further contamination of the lakes. Will the United States step up soon?