As summer in Central Illinois rolls on, one thing is sure: Illinois residents depend on and love our waterways. Fishing, boating, hiking, birdwatching, and picnicking are just a few of the pastimes that demonstrate our love for nature and our waterways. However, some of our main recreational activities and everyday consumption patterns can also lead to high levels of shoreline litter or even widespread pollution, endangering wildlife, ecosystems, and the many summer pastimes that so many of us love. Whether it is an urban or rural location, the effects of our consumption patterns are present, sometimes visibly, but oftentimes not. Through our research at UIS and specifically Lake Springfield, we hope to understand these consumption patterns and find ways to reduce anthropogenic pollution to mitigate its effects on the environment.
Lake Springfield is located in the Lake Springfield watershed which also includes most of Sangamon County, Macoupin County, and parts of Morgan County. A watershed is a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers, and eventually to outflow points such as reservoirs, bays, and the ocean (NOAA 2021). There are also many smaller ponds and lakes that are within this area, including Lake Macoupin at Lincoln Land Community College (LLCC) which drains into Lake Springfield. From previous and current research being conducted by Jennifer, there is solid evidence that Lake Macoupin is contaminated with high nitrates, ammonia, and phosphates from agricultural fertilizer runoff. This then flows into Lake Springfield, contaminating water that is used for recreational and fishing activities, and later for drinking water by roughly 165,000 residents. Through our research, we are eliminating as much physical pollution created by residents as we can to keep it from washing into Lake Springfield off the shoreline. This not only creates hazards for residents drinking and using the lake for recreational purposes, but also impacts aquatic species as well. The physical pollution can get tangled up in appendages or these species might mistake the pollution for food. Understanding pollution patterns and rates will help us combat the stressors implemented on these species and the environment.
Upon our initial research at Lake Springfield with UIS professors Dr. Anne-Marie Hanson, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, and Dr. Thomas Rothfus, ENS Research Assistant Professor and Director of the Therkildsen Field Station at Emiquon, it was evident that pollution such as fishing line and cigarette butts were the most widespread types of litter throughout popular fishing sites. After this observation, we began to partner with Springfield City, Water, Light and Power (CWLP) to see how this issue could be resolved. With the help of CWLP, fishing line recycling receptacles and cigarette waste bins were installed to implement further research. As of July 2021, we have 21 fishing line receptacles and three cigarette bins located across 14 popular fishing sites at Lake Springfield. We empty the fishing line bins monthly, we conduct shoreline surveys, and we record GPS coordinates of the littered items that are sorted, counted, and weighed for later analysis. Through this data collection and analysis, we hope to discover insight into fishing line and cigarette butt pollution patterns and rates on Lake Springfield. In our June shoreline surveys alone, we collected 2,841 littered cigarette butts and about 2.6 miles of littered fishing line. We have also collected over 17 miles of properly disposed-of fishing line from the recycling bins. We will soon begin our GIS analysis to map the pollution patterns around Lake Springfield.
Our research has led to some interesting findings outside the realm of fishing line and cigarette butts. We have discovered generous amounts of hooks, fishing lures, weights, bobbers, and litter in general (mostly food and tobacco packaging). Some of these items are found entangled in the fishing line, laying near the fishing line receptacles, or simply laying loose on the shore. For now, we collect these findings and count how many we find at each fishing site we survey. As we continue to conduct our research around Lake Springfield, we are keeping all the fishing line and cigarette butts to recycle, and hope to create art, a planter, or a bench from the recycled materials. The hooks, fishing lures, weights, and bobbers, are also being kept for use in a future project.
While much of our time is spent doing research and collecting data, not every moment is serious. From finding flip flops and hats, we never know what surprises we may find on collection days. However, one thing we know for sure is that our research is helping to keep Lake Springfield clean, and the residents appreciate our work as well. Many times, when we are collecting data at the survey sites fishers compliment us for cleaning up the lake and conducting our research. They are interested in what we are doing and that motivates us even more to continue our research in the future.
Katie Calhoon is a senior at UIS majoring in Environmental Studies. This is her second year working with Dr. Anne-Marie Hanson to evaluate plastic litter prevention strategies on Lake Springfield. In her spare time Katie enjoys DIY projects, being in nature, and spending time with her family and friends.
Jennifer Davis is from Petersburg, Illinois and is an Environmental Science graduate student. She currently works as the Lincoln Land Community College Laboratory Coordinator and a vet technician at Petersburg Veterinary Clinic. She currently holds the title of 2021 Illinois Ms. Agriculture USA.
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