Accumulation of anthropogenic litter (AL) on marine beaches and its ecological effects have been a major focus of research. Recent studies suggest AL is also abundant in freshwater environments, but much less research has been conducted in freshwaters relative to oceans. The Adopt-a-BeachTM (AAB) program, administered by the Alliance for the Great Lakes, organizes volunteers to act as citizen scientists by collecting and maintaining data on AL abundance on Great Lakes beaches. Initial assessments of the AAB records quantified sources and abundance of AL on Lake Michigan beaches, and showed that plastic AL was > 75% of AL on beaches across all five Great Lakes. However, AAB records have not yet been used to examine patterns of AL density and composition among beaches of all different substrate types (e.g., parks, rocky, sandy), across land-use categories (e.g., rural, suburban, urban), or among seasons (i.e., spring, summer, and fall). We found that most AL on beaches are consumer goods that most likely originate from beach visitors and nearby urban environments, rather than activities such as shipping, fishing, or illegal dumping. We also demonstrated that urban beaches and those with sand rather than rocks had higher AL density relative to other sites. Finally, we found that AL abundance is lowest during the summer, between the US holidays of Memorial Day (last Monday in May) and Labor Day (first Monday in September) at the urban beaches, while other beaches showed no seasonality. This research is a model for utilizing datasets collected by volunteers involved in citizen science programs, and will contribute to AL management by offering priorities for AL types and locations to maximize AL reduction.
Anna Vincent, Nate Drag, Olga Lyandres, Sarah Neville, Timothy Hoellein, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 577, 15 January 2017, Pages 105–112