Bear Lake students participate in shoreline plastic study

BEAR LAKE — The high school science students of today include many of the environmental leaders of tomorrow.

Bear Lake School students along with teacher John Prokes show their community pride as they display the bags of plastic trash they collected off the shore of Lake Michigan by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.

Bear Lake School students along with teacher John Prokes show their community pride as they display the bags of plastic trash they collected off the shore of Lake Michigan by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.

That is why innovative teaching methods are one way to ignite a spark into those young minds and get them thinking about the various impacts certain items can have on the environment.

At Bear Lake Schools science teacher John Prokes wanted to come up with a project that would ignite that spark in his students to coincide with the recent Earth Day celebration. What Prokes came up with was a study to learn about the impact of plastic deposition on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

“We had 25 students who volunteered to walk the entire 30 plus mile shoreline of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore,” said Prokes. “Students divided up into 10 groups and walked three to six miles of the beach where they recorded the number of steps they take before plastics are observed on the shoreline.”

However, Prokes said it wasn’t just identification, the project included eradication of the debris as well.

“Plastic and other waste debris observed was collected for proper recycling and disposal,” he said.

All the students took a different perspective from the project, and for Vanessa Wahl it was a chance to learn something new.

“I think the project was a good idea and an experience that opened my eyes,” she said. “When we first started walking, we looked directly at the shoreline and couldn’t find anything. What we then realized was most of the plastic isn’t right at the water, but more up on the beach, in between all the sticks. The variety of things we found were crazy as I expected to find water bottles, but there was a lot of wire, cans and gross things.”

As part of their study the Bear Lake School science students would not only collect all the plastic products they found, but they would also documented how many steps they took between items they found.

As part of their study the Bear Lake School science students would not only collect all the plastic products they found, but they would also documented how many steps they took between items they found.

Student Randi Nelson felt it is important to do this every year.

“I do hope that this program becomes an annual tradition for our school because it helps three factors: you and your community, your surroundings and your school,” said Nelson. “I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything else.”

For foreign exchange student Nerea Xiajuan Pastor Jorda, what they found was a big surprise.

“I expected to pick up plastic after seeing documentation on how much is in the ocean, but I did not expect to find the kind of things we found,” said Jorda. “We did not only find small pieces of plastic, but we found a lot more big and unbelievable  plastic stuffs and trash. There were areas that were pretty clean, but others where it was every one to 10 steps.”

One of the many things the students also discussed in a debriefing meeting they had after the clean-up and study was the way these types of objects can cause harm to animals, fish and more. For Mariah McLouth that was an area of concern.

Students would collect the debris in large bags and then transfer it into smaller plastic ones. The students broke up into 10 teams and each group walked about four miles along the shoreline.

Students would collect the debris in large bags and then transfer it into smaller plastic ones. The students broke up into 10 teams and each group walked about four miles along the shoreline.

“It is sad to think about how many animals die every day from ingesting plastic just because people on this planet are too lazy to recycle,” she said. “We need to end littering once and for all, and I can’t wait to help next year.”

Kyle Fink showed the students did their homework when it came to what type of animals could be impacted by the plastics.

“I feel like it helped the environment tremendously so animals like the endangered Piping Plover (which we did see) did not eat plastic,” he said.

Olyvia Groenwald pointed out that it isn’t just the animals that will benefit from the clean-up.

“It will make it better for the people who live around that area and this project will make a big impact on the ecosystem,” she said.

Plastic debris came in all sizes from small little pieces to large plastic barrels that were found along the shoreline.

Plastic debris came in all sizes from small little pieces to large plastic barrels that were found along the shoreline.

Keera Groenwald took away a similar feeling about the project and the need for the public to become more proactive in terms of protecting the environment.

“I realized so many humans can be so so careless to just throw bottles and cans on our beaches,” she said. “It’s a huge negative impact. To do something like this every year would really be something important to help our environment.”

Noah Sutton said when they finished their walk he was amazed what they found just in plastics alone.

“There were spans on the beach where I walked about 100 steps or more without finding a piece of plastic and then there were others were it was at every step,” said Sutton. “We ended up filling a 13 gallon trash bag and a five gallon bucket with plastic and we walked only 4.5 miles.”

The walk was something that made Cadence Miller proud of her fellow students and her community for showing that they do care about the environment. Students gave up a day on the weekend to take part in this event.

“People don’t expect a small town like Bear Lake to do something like this,” she said. “Yes, we may be a small school, but the fact that we got high school and late middle schoolers to go out on their own time, let alone on a Sunday, is outstanding.”

It was a lesson that began with a 30 mile section of beach, but one that the Bear Lake students hope will grow to include even more area in the future and something more people will join them in doing.

avatar

Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

Leave a Reply