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A River Reborn

The Cuyahoga River famously caught fire on June 22, 1969, inspiring several songs and sullying Cleveland’s reputation for generations. Ultimately, though, the incident sparked conservation efforts and led to the Clean Water Act. Today, the water flowing by the Greater Cleveland Aquarium is home to more than 60 species of fish along with rowing crews, paddleboarders, boaters and others enjoying the river’s scenic beauty.  That’s the story we want to tell as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the last time the river burned; not the burning but the inspiration and restoration.

Northeast Ohio is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River’s last fire as to remind us of the importance of our natural resources and as an opportunity reflect on how far Northeast Ohio and the nation have come in cleaning up our waterways.  So far this year, the Aquarium has participated in the River Sweep cleanup, made presentations to more than 30 groups on the history of the Cuyahoga River and conducted a river walking tour that ended with a citizen science water quality test.

On the actual anniversary, we have our grand finale commemoration event. We’re inviting the community to a Cuyahoga50 #RiverReborn Family Celebration filled with feel-good music and hands-on kids’ activities. Join the Cleveland History Center, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Creative Concepts in Music’s Sheela Das, Eriesponsible, Holden Forest & Gardens, International Women’s Air & Space Museum, musician Brent Kirby, National First Ladies’ Library, Nautica Queen, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) and Sierra Club for an afternoon of make-and-take crafts, games and informational displays focused on being good stewards of our natural resources. All activities are included with Aquarium admission.

Whether it’s making recycled water bottle fish, ship or plane, taking a narrated walk along the Cuyahoga or guessing how long it takes trash to break down, this rain-or-shine afternoon event is full of fun, hands-on activities and organizations that will help future generations gain a better understanding of their relation to and impact on natural resources.

Many thanks to NEORSD for its partnership and support of these initiatives.

(If you’re able to stick around on the West Bank of the Flats, there’s a Farmer’s Market beginning at 4pm steps away at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica AND an evening Cuyahoga River Boat Parade that day too!)

Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Eco-Friendly Fishing Tips

Fishing is a popular outdoor hobby for many people. In fact, anyone older than 16 can purchase a fishing license in Ohio. Some of the most popular sport fish in this region are bass, walleye, catfish and perch.

With any outdoor activity there are environmental risks that we can help minimize.  Being aware of our impact on our natural ecosystems is an important step in protecting the planet. Here are a few ways you can help reduce your effect on our environment while still enjoying your favorite pastime.

Break it Down Now

Although biodegradable fishing line can be hard to find, it can help reduce the amount of harm done by leftover fishing line.  Regular fishing line takes about 600 years to decompose while biodegradable options can take as little as 2 years.  If biodegradable, isn’t an option then make sure you’re being cautious about where your extra line ends up. Clean up after yourself whenever possible.

No Lead, No Problems

Many fishing weights and other equipment contain lead.  High levels of lead in water bodies can poison fish and other wildlife.  Using weights made with brass, steel, bismuth tin, iron or tungsten will lessen the amount of lead that end up in our waterways.

Eyes as Big as Your Stomach

In addition to adhering to local catch-and-release fishing regulations, it’s important to only take the fish you know you can use.  Only keeping the fish you know you will use is more sustainable and reduces the amount of bycatch.

All about the Baits

Most bait, such as worms or other fish aren’t naturally found in the environments where they are used.  High levels of this non-native bait can disrupt the natural ecosystems and cause issues within the food chain.  Make sure to use only the bait you need and to take any leftovers with you for proper disposal.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Motorized fishing boats release carbon emissions into the environment that can be harmful to the local wildlife.  Whenever possible, try using a rowboat or canoe to fish. There are also special boat propellers that can increase fuel efficiency by more than 20%.

Talkin’ Trash

The biggest thing you can do when enjoying any outdoor activity is clean up after yourself! Taking all your belongings and trash with you ensures that nothing ends up where it shouldn’t be.

– Caroline

5 Ways to Cut Back On Plastic Pollution after Skipping the Straw

Plastic never truly degrades into nothing, it breaks down into smaller and smaller particles. Fish consume microplastics in our waterways. So, if you eat fish you might actually inadvertently consume some of the plastic waste you’ve thrown away. There’s a public movement to reduce reliance on single-use plastics and as a result many restaurants are switching the paper straws and many individuals are opting for reusable stainless steel straws or foregoing straws altogether. While “skipping the straw” is an amazing first step to reducing plastic pollution, it isn’t enough. Below are 5 steps to help reduce your plastic waste.

B.Y.O.B. = Bring Your Own Bag

Plastic bags are a hassle and not many recycling facilities accept plastic grocery bags. Although reusing them at home as small trashcan liners or for doggy clean up may be convenient, these plastics are very dangerous to aquatic life. Small animals out in the ocean can get stuck inside of these drifting bags. Other animals mistake them for prey (jellyfish) and ingest them. In both cases, the result can be death.

A good tip is to leave reusable grocery bags in your car. Even if you forget to bring them into the store you can always just throw groceries in a cart and transfer them to your bags once you reach your vehicle.

Invest in a Few Reusable Bottles

If you’re trying to keep hydrated, water filters are very easy to come by and fairly affordable. This not only works with water though, many coffee shops and cafes will fill your personal travel mug or thermos (sometimes even applying a discount) instead of using their plastic or paper cups.

Switch from a Plastic Toothbrush to a Biodegradable One

Plastic toothbrushes don’t biodegrade. I speak from experience when I say that a biodegradable, bamboo toothbrush works just as well as a toothbrush your dentist might give you.

Give Up Gum

Gum is actually made of synthetic rubber, AKA plastic. If you spit gum out on the sidewalk or even in a trash can be YEARS before it even starts to break down.

Swap those Plastic Sandwich Bags for Reusable Containers

Getting a lunch box with reusable containers cuts back on cost (you won’t have to keep buying sandwich bags) and plastic waste.

– Bethany Jones

Make a Difference: 2019 Beach Clean-ups

For more than 25 years, the Alliance for the Great Lakes has hosted Adopt-a-Beach events all over the Great Lakes to keep the shorelines healthy, safe and beautiful. In 2018 alone, more than 14,000 volunteers picked up 35,606 pounds of litter over the course of 900 cleanups.

The Splash Fund (a non-profit affiliate of the Greater Cleveland Aquarium) has hosted beach clean-ups in Cleveland since we opened seven years ago. This year, our beach cleanups are scheduled:

5/18 – 10am-12pm Perkins Beach (Edgewater) in partnership with Drink Local. Drink Tap.

6/15 – 10am-12pm Edgewater (main beach)

7/20 – 10am-12pm Edgewater (main beach)

8/17 – 10am-12pm Edgewater (main beach)

9/28 – 10am-12pm Perkins Beach (Edgewater) in partnership with Drink Local. Drink Tap.

The Cleveland Metroparks team does a terrific job of keeping big waste items off the beach, so what exactly gets picked up during these volunteer events? We mostly collect small plastic items including cigarette butts, water bottles, food containers, straws and cigar tips. Even though we are picking up primarily small pieces of plastic, we still remove around 100 pounds of garbage each of the mornings. We couldn’t do it without the help of hundreds of volunteers each summer. We show our gratitude for this effort by offering each volunteer one free post-event ticket to visit the Aquarium.

The easiest way to sign up for one of our beach clean-ups is to register here. It’s easy and fun and make a big difference. We hope to see you at the beach this summer!

Coral Reefs Need Our Help!

One of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, coral reefs are in serious peril. Coral reefs take up about 1% of the ocean floor but are home to 25% of all ocean species including more than 4,000 species of fish.

What is a coral reef?

Coral reefs are colonies of individual animals called polyps. The polyps have tentacles to feed on plankton at night and they play host zooxanthellae—symbiotic algae that live within the coral’s tissues and gives them color. The algae need carbon dioxide and waste products from the coral for photosynthesis. In turn, through photosynthesis the algae nourish the coral with oxygen and organic compounds. The coral uses these compounds to synthesize calcium carbonate (limestone) with which it constructs its skeleton.  This skeleton contains bands, like tree rings, that record environmental changes in temperature, water chemistry and water clarity.

Why should we care about coral reefs?

Coral reefs are also known as the speed bumps of the ocean. These structures act as a natural barrier, helping to slow down and shrink waves hurtling toward the shoreline and thereby protecting coastlines and the 200 million people living along the coasts from hurricanes.

We receive many other benefits from coral reefs. Stationary animals, coral are constantly evolving chemical defenses as protection from predators.  Scientists are developing new medicines from the coral-produced compounds to help treat cancer, arthritis, bacterial infections, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, viruses and many others.

Coral reefs also provide us with food and construction materials. They also contribute heavily to the economy via tourism.

Why are coral reefs endangered?

Believe it or not coral reefs can get stressed out! There are a variety of different factors that contribute to the stress of coral reefs. For example, rising temperatures globally causes coral bleaching. Also, additional carbon dioxide oceans absorb every day contributes to increased acidification which reduces the water’s ability to carry the calcium carbonate that corals need to build skeletons.

Additionally, overfishing is changing the coral reefs ecosystem with anchors and nets destroying the natural habitat.  And when sediment and other pollutants settle on coral reefs it can speed the growth of damaging algae and lower overall water quality. With lower water quality the sunlight may not be strong enough to reach the zooxanthellae to go into photosynthesis.

How can we help?

Scientist are working to find some solutions, but all of us can join the effort to help coral reefs by reducing our carbon footprints. Try recycling or using more reusable products. Join the skip-the-straw movement reducing single-use plastic waste. Only eat fish sourced sustainably. Or, donate to organizations and support companies committed to cleaning up our oceans.

-Crystal

World Water Day 2019

In 2010, the United Nations recognized the right to safe and clean drinking water as a human right. This means that everyone in the world should have access to safe water for personal use including for drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes and food and personal and household cleanliness.

In the United States, it is hard to imagine not having access to clean water. In fact, when a community does face a water challenge like in Flint Michigan or the droughts in California, the incidents make big news.   Worldwide, however, 2.1 billion people live without safe water at home.  And 4 billion people (nearly 2/3 of the world’s population) experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. More than 700 children younger than five die every day from diarrhea linked to unsafe water and poor sanitation.

World Water Day was first celebrated in 1993 after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development recommended an international celebration to focus attention on the importance of freshwater. In 2016, more than 500 events taking place in 1000 countries celebrated World Water Day.

At the Aquarium, we obviously support any effort to advocate for clean water. Without clean water, animal life could not thrive. So it was a natural fit when Drink Local Drink Tap invited us to partner for their World Water Day Celebration several years ago. The mission statement for Drink Local Drink Tap reads, “Inspiring individuals to recognize and solve our water issues through creative education, events and providing safe water access to people in need.” Since DLDT’s formation, the organization has provided safe water to 21, 311 people in Uganda and sanitation to 6,994 people, collected 6,255 pounds of trash from Edgewater Park and celebrated World Water Day with 12,679 students through their Wavemaker Program.

The Wavemaker program is an opportunity for students to take action locally and globally to care for shared water. Becoming a wavemaker means you:

  • Stop using one time use plastic water bottles and commit to a reusable water bottle;
  • Volunteer at a beach cleanup in your area or host your own beach clean-up;
  • Participate in 4 Miles 4 Water, a walk/run to raise funds for DLDT;
  • Do your best to reduce water waste;
  • Raise funds to help students in Uganda access safe water;
  • Arrange for DLDT to come to speak at your school, church, temple, community, etc.

Drink Local Drink Tap celebrates all the students who have chosen to be wavemakers each year with a gathering at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Students have the chance to learn about each other’s projects and to tour the Aquarium, through support from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

This year, the Aquarium is celebrating World Water Day all weekend long. From Friday March 22 through Sunday March 24, we’ll have a clean water scavenger hunt with the chance to win an annual family pass, and $5 off regular walk-in admission with the code BeATourist19. The first 150 guests on World Water Day (March 22) receive a pin set commemorating the Cuyahoga River, courtesy of Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. Come help us celebrate clean water!

-Tami Brown

Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Cuyahoga River Reborn

The Cuyahoga River famously caught fire on June 22, 1969, inspiring several songs and sullying Cleveland’s reputation for generations. But do you know the real history of our beloved river?

The Cuyahoga River officially begins about 35 miles east of Cleveland and continues its 85-mile journey south to Akron, where it turns sharply north and flows through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to Lake Erie. The depth of the river ranges from 3 to 6 ft. except at the last 6 miles, where it is dredged to a depth of 27 feet.

Originally the river bed’s last bend took the mouth westward along the lakeshore to W. 54th St., until the present mouth was dug in 1827 to form Whiskey Island and a more direct channel which leads straight into Lake Erie.

The Cuyahoga actually caught on fire 13 times. The first fire occurred in 1868, just after the Civil War. The largest fire occurred in 1952, causing more than $1 million damage and the deadliest fire was in 1912, killing five men.

The Cuyahoga is not the only river that caught fire in US history. Rivers in Washington, D.C., Omaha, Buffalo, Dearborn and Philadelphia all caught fire as well.

By 1968, the reach from Akron to Cleveland was devoid of fish. Mayor Carl Stokes began advocating to clean up the river. Cleveland voters approved a $100 million bond issue to finance river cleanup efforts, including sewer system improvements, debris removal and stormwater overflow controls.

On June 22, 1969, just before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon, the river burned for the last time. The event was not considered “big news” and in fact there are no photos of the actual fire since news media did not make it there fast enough. However, on August 1, 1969, that small fire on the Cuyahoga river captured the attention of Time magazine, which described it as the river that “oozes rather than flows” and in which a person “does not drown but decays”.

Inspired by the 1969 river fire, the Time article and other initiatives, Congress passed the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) which was signed into law on January 1, 1970.  This act helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). One of the first legislations that the EPA put-forth was the Clean Water Act (1972), which mandated that all rivers throughout the United States be hygienic enough to safely allow mass amounts of swimmers and fish within the water by 1983.

The river’s water quality finally began to improve during the following decades, and by the 1980s business investors capitalized on this by converting parts of the Flats’ abandoned industrial landscape into an entertainment district featuring restaurants, nightclubs, and music venues.

Recent water tests have found the cleanest river readings in the past 20 years and it is now home to about 60 different species of fish. The river continues to serve as the center of an active maritime industry, a growing recreational attraction, the link that connects the cities of Cleveland and Akron, the home of a national park, and the hub of Cleveland’s urban revitalization.

It took us about 100 years of fires on the river to finally take action, but once we did, the river reached an acceptable water quality level in less than 50 years. There’s still work to be done, but going from 0 species of fish to 60 species of fish represents great progress. And in the future, our hope is that the burning river will only refer to a really great beer.

If you have a group that would like to learn more about a #riverreborn, please contact us to have a speaker make a presentation!

 

 

Our Plastic Pollution Problem

It is estimated that more than 8 million tons of plastic trash enter our oceans each year. If that is not shocking enough, this story also hits close to home. According to a study done by the Rochester Institute of Technology, it has been discovered that 5.5 million pounds of plastic goes directly into Lake Erie (Zukowski). This plastic includes visible and micro-plastics which are dangerous to both people and wildlife. The most common plastics found near the shores of Lake Erie include cigarette butts, bags, bottles, caps, straws, and even flip flops.

 

 

Fortunately, we can do something to help. There are several small changes we can make in our daily lives which will create a big change for the environment. These include:

  • Recycling – It is estimated that 1 trillion plastic bags are thrown away each year, and of the 1 million bottles purchased every minute around the world, less than half of those will be recycled. Recycling those bags and bottles will help cut down on the amount of “new” plastic in circulation.
  • Skipping the Straw – 500 million plastic straws are used each day in the United States. An easy fix to not using a plastic straw is to invest in a reusable stainless steel or glass straw. Furthermore, companies such as Starbucks are starting to get on the no straw trend, as they are now giving a 10 cent discount to customers who bring in a reusable cup. Some stores are also beginning to use paper straws which are less harmful to wildlife and the environment (Nuñez).
  • Keeping Our Coasts Clean – A fun and rewarding way to help cut down on the amount of plastic pollution entering our oceans and lakes is by volunteering for a beach clean up. The Greater Cleveland Aquarium’s Splash Fund organizes Adopt-A-Beach cleanups with the Alliance for the Great Lakes every summer. To register for our beach cleanups, please visit greatlakesadopt.org. You can find the Aquarium hosted cleanups by searching the date of the event, the location  (Lakefront Reservation – Edgewater), or both. Then click on the event and follow the steps to register. Registration is important because it gives us an idea of how many people to expect and also provides contact information so that we can keep everyone up to date on details or changes (i.e. the weather does not cooperate). We hope to see you there!

 

 

 

Putting it to the Test: Cuyahoga River’s Water Quality

Cuyahoga means “crooked river,” for good reason; it kind of looks like a backwards letter “U.” The river begins with two separate branches in Geauga County which join and flow south through the city of Akron.  The river then comes back north to Cleveland and empties out in Lake Erie.

Throughout the 1800s, Ohio grew. The Ohio and Erie Canal gave local businesses and farms access to resources. That connectivity meant Ohio’s farmers could sell their goods for higher prices in a more competitive market.

But as industry and population grew there were some consequences. The Cuyahoga River suffered. Minimal laws for waste regulation combined with chemical and steel materials dumped into the river – the Cuyahoga caught on fire not once or twice, but thirteen times. The most famous fire, in 1969, gained national attention and began an environmental movement that sparked initiatives such as the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Cuyahoga began to clear.

Through its Rivers & Lakes: Keeping the Great Lakes and our Water Quality Scientist programs, the Aquarium brings students to the River’s banks to test its water quality the day of their visit. Using the scientific method, students determine if the water is excellent, good, fair or poor.

These tests take temperature as well as pH and nitrate levels into account. Students then discuss why it is important to test for these particular things and what variables can change the result. For example, oxygen levels can drop if the water is stagnant, phosphate levels will spike if farm fertilizer runoff enters the water and nitrate levels rise whenever human sewage is dumped in the river from sewer overflow points.  According to our Erin Bauer, Greater Cleveland Aquarium’s Education Coordinator, most days the Cuyahoga’s health comes out “fairly good,” but says there’s always room for improvement.

Students tend to have a range of reactions to being out by the river. Bauer states, “Getting to throw a water sample collection bucket into the river is always a highlight. Hearing kids make observations about what they see is always great. There are always a few ‘Eww, the brown water is nasty!’ and ‘Look at those plastic bottles out there.’  But there are also observations like ‘Cool! Look at those sea gulls!’ or ‘Wow, it’s bigger than I thought!’” Bauer is particularly happy when a barge passes by and the students can see how the river contributes to the region’s transportation needs.

The program has help from Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) which provides the tubes and tablets needed to test water quality.  They also gifted us an enviroscape model that illustrates waste water treatment, drinking water treatment, runoff in the watershed and combined sewers.

Facilitating connections between students and our natural resources is important and Bauer says, “NEORSD and the Aquarium share a desire to educate youth about the urban water cycle.”

Visiting students are asked to brainstorm ways they can make a positive environmental difference for the Cuyahoga River.  For example, buying organic produce can reduce phosphate levels, planting trees can decrease turbidity, and reducing water volume while showering or brushing teeth ultimately leads to a decrease in sewer overflow.

– Morgan Wright