From the sturgeon down to the smallest microorganisms, plastics have been found in every creature in the Great Lakes region.
The five interconnected bodies of water are the world’s second-largest freshwater ecosystem, and scientists have been working around the clock to preserve this precious resource.
During the Sustainable Cleveland 2020 Virtual Summit, experts explained how ingrained plastics are throughout the delicate habitat, the impacts on the local economy and what initiatives are being implemented to mitigate and reverse damage to the Great Lakes.
Jill Bartolotta, Ohio Sea Grant extension educator, began with a summary of the health impacts of plastic ingestion to Lake Erie’s marine and aquatic wildlife.
“There’s been some studies done that show that organisms that have plastic in them such as plankton and fish have endocrine disruption,” she said. “That’s our hormones, and our hormones control everything in our body. So, it’s altering their feeding, reproduction, growth and movement behaviors, which pretty much affects every aspect of that organism’s life.”
Entanglement also is an issue. While there has been entanglement data conducted on ocean systems, not enough has been done in the Great Lakes region.
Bartolotta said that she recently completed some work with wildlife rehab centers across the state of Ohio. Her research found that birds are the number one animal brought into rehab centers in the state because they become entangled in trash. Mammals and then reptiles follow behind the bird in numbers, respectively. Fish were not considered because they are not normally brought into wildlife centers.