5 Groups Working To Protect & Restore The Great Lakes

The interconnected series of lakes bridging Canada and the United States is the largest group of its kind on Earth by area, containing about a fifth of the world's supply of surface fresh water. Unfortunately, these resources are under attack from threats including chemical spills, microplastic pollution, and invasive species. However, there are dedicated people working to combat these problems. In no particular order, here are some organizations striving to repair the damage before it is too late.

#1 on our list is AquaHacking, which aims to leverage the knowledge and enthusiasm of young entrepreneurs to address issues affecting the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin. The organization's focus is on listening to professionals in the field, supporting tech talent to obtain concrete, demand-driven solutions, and providing mentoring and incubation.

Issues the group tackles include reducing the 10,000 metric tons of plastic debris that enter the Great Lakes annually, halting the spread of chemical compounds such as DDT, herbicides, and mercury that pollute watersheds, and stopping sewage from being dumped into waterways. This is done indirectly, through messaging campaigns and by having experts from tech, business, academia and government guide young entrepreneurs.

Next up at #2 is FLOW (For Love of Water), which declares its mission to be empowering leaders to protect the Great Lakes. The organization is dedicated to education, policy advancement, and fixing systemic threats to the basin, including problems brought about by unsafe agricultural practices and climate change. There is also a program to collaborate with artists who are inspired by humanity's connection to freshwater.

FLOW works to address dangers such as algal blooms, commercial cage aquaculture, the crisis in Flint, Michigan, hydraulic fracturing, and invasive species like sea lampreys and quagga mussels. The group also plans actions around issues like wetlands destruction and corporations stealing from the watershed.

Our #3 pick is Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, which works to bring scientific knowledge to communities and decision makers in the southern Lake Michigan region. Activities include funding research on controlling populations of crayfish and Asian carp, which crowd out native animals, and setting up drug collection programs to help prevent unwanted medicines from entering waterways.

I.I.S.G. also provides tours of Chicago's downtown lake and river fronts, tools to begin green infrastructure development, and information to landowners about the dangers of chemical runoff, offering natural lawn care alternatives that are effective without causing ecological damage. In addition, the organization runs educational programs and funds fellowships and internships to help students cultivate their interest in issues like these.

At #4 is Freshwater Future, an organization that supports community efforts to defend natural habitats, shorelines, wetlands, and drinking water in the Great Lakes Basin. The group provides grants to grassroots projects working to improve the watershed and also assists financially with local advocacy campaigns to raise awareness about the need to protect the environment.

Grant recipients have included We the Youth of Detroit, which works to ensure drinking water is clean, and Two Rivers Coalition, which tests septic systems for E. coli. The organization also funds restoration projects, such as one designed to undo damage to Whiskey Island in Cleveland, Ohio.

Rounding out our list at #5 is Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a Canadian charity founded by a lawyer and a community organizer that seeks to safeguard resources for swimming, drinking, and fishing. The group investigates threats to the watershed, conducts research, lobbies the government, and participates in license reviews, environmental assessments, and legal hearings.

Since its launch in 2001, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper states it has participated in efforts to protect an estimated 1.6 million fish. The group also releases guides with recreational opportunities and drinking water advisory alerts that can be accessed via smartphone apps.