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Massive trash patch found on Lake Superior beach after storms

Nov 09, 2017 07:53AM ● Published by Editor

By Tanda Gmiter tgmiter@mlive.com - November 8, 2017

MARQUETTE, MI -  After fierce storms whipped up record waves on Lake Superior late last month, chewing up coastline along the Upper Peninsula, Stella Larkin stopped by to check on her friend's waterfront home east of Marquette.

What she found stunned her.

A large plastic-filled trash patch had washed up on the beach, tangled among the tree branches and other debris. Everything from battered dish soap bottles and body wash containers to plastic silverware and toys. Lots of children's beach toys.

"When I got down and got closer, there was a ton of stuff. I just couldn't walk away without picking it up," said Larkin, an artist who owns Rustico furniture shop in Marquette with her husband.

Because of the vast amount of plastic that littered the shore, Larkin had to limit herself to picking up a 200-foot stretch in front of her friend's home. That alone filled three trash bags.

"It went on and on," she said of the mess, adding that she went back and picked up more a few days later. "That's what was so remarkable. I honestly haven't seen that before."

The trash patch problem likely was created by a perfect storm of sorts - a windmaking weather system that pushed record waves of nearly 29 feet in Lake Superior, combined with high water levels on the lake, said Carl Lindquist, executive director of the Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Trust.

The debris that ended up on the beach probably washed off the yards and streets of Marquette, where 3,000 storm sewers are laid out underneath the city to catch what falls in. Debris mixes with stormwater run-off and is funneled into a dozen bigger outlet pipes that lead to Lake Superior.

And then everything drifts east with the currents.

"Most people are still not aware of how the storm drain system works," said Lindquist, whose Marquette-area nonprofit has partnered with the city on stormwater initiatives. "There's just more that people can do, and everybody has their part to play."

Seeing an "incredible" amount of trash like Larkin found makes the issue hit home, he said. It also underscores how simple, everyday tasks like picking up pet waste, properly disposing of cigarette butts and trash, and keeping your car maintained so it doesn't leak fluid on the streets all have an impact on the health of the Great Lakes.

In this case, Larkin and Superior Watershed are putting the trash to good use. Larkin is creating artwork with the recovered plastic. It will be used to help educate people about stormwater runoff and how it affects The Great Lakes and their beaches.

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