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Chautauqua Lake to participate in an International microplastics citizen science study

October 5, 2016
Westfield Republican

Plastics in the environment are typically broken down into ever-smaller pieces, rather than into their component molecules, by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light through a process known as photodegradation. Microplastics are plastic pieces generally smaller than 5 mm that often originate from cosmetic sources such as exfoliating face wash or toothpaste but also from synthetic clothing or improperly discarded plastic products. Whenever microplastic-containing personal-care products are used, thousands of microplastic particles travel down the drain, through water treatment systems, and out to our local waterways. Much of the existing science on aquatic plastic pollution has focused on our oceans, but that is now evolving to include studies of freshwater ecosystems as well. In fact, a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, Dr. Sherri Mason, is on the forefront of freshwater studies focused on the Great Lakes. During her studies, Dr. Mason found alarmingly high numbers of microplastics in the Great Lakes whereby plastics were found in the gastrointestinal tracts of every fish species that was sampled. The microplastics can act as a sponge for toxins and based on Dr. Mason's findings, are clearly entering into the food chain via ingestion by fish and other wildlife.

Another professor at Fredonia, Dr. Courtney Wigdahl-Perry, was recently contacted by international colleagues about conducting microplastics sampling on Chautauqua Lake, one of only a handful of North American sites to be included in a larger European study of microplastics in inland lakes. A PhD student in the Netherlands has been leading the NETLAKE citizen science activities in Europe and is currently conducting a microplastics monitoring project assessing over 25 European lakes. Chautauqua Lake samples, one from the North basin and one from the South basin, have been collected and will be sent to the Netherlands for analysis.

Citizen science is scientific research performed, partly or fully, by people not professionally trained as scientists while still applying sound scientific principles. For researchers, citizen science allows for scaling up of their project and informing a wider audience about their work. The Chautauqua Lake Association has participated in the Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP), a volunteer lake monitoring program run by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the NYS Federation of Lake Associations (NYSFOLA) for decades. These invaluable data include parameters such as temperature, Total Phosphorus, and algae levels and type. However, this NETLAKE study would be the first ever effort to assess levels of microplastics in Chautauqua Lake.

Article Photos

Submitted photo
Jen Maguder, Conservationist with the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, collects a water sample from near the beach at Long Point State Park on Chautauqua Lake in Bemus Point.

Staff from the Chautauqua Lake & Watershed Management Alliance (Alliance) and the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy (CWC), in coordination with Dr. Wigdahl-Perry, collected samples from both lake basins on Tuesday, September 20, 2016.

Erin Brickley, Executive Director of the Alliance, stated "It is very exciting to be included in this international study which will serve to create baseline knowledge of microplastic levels in Chautauqua Lake. Chautauqua County was one of the leading municipalities that banned sales of cosmetic products containing microbeads which officially went into effect February 2016 so the timing of this study coincides nicely." CWC Executive Director, John Jablonski III, reminds us that "there are simple actions each of us can take to reduce the likelihood of microplastics entering our waterways such as not littering, reduce bottled water consumption, avoid using plastic bags whenever possible, and buying products that contain natural exfoliants such as oatmeal or walnut husks rather than plastic microbeads."

For more information regarding the microplastic sampling, please contact Erin Brickley at (716) 661-8918.



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