Fishing for Plastic: Employees Volunteer to Clean Up Zoo Lake

McKinly Dortch is a senior Environmental Science major at Oklahoma State University. This summer, she served as the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden's sustainability intern. She documented efforts to help remove plastic waste and other debris from Zoo Lake.

Zoo crew cleaning Zoo Lake

For the second time this year, OKC Zoo employees came together to clean the debris, much of it single-use plastic, out of Northeast Lake (also known as Zoo Lake). The housekeeping team led the lake clean-up and many employees stopped by to help out. This clean-up event also earned employees points for our July Plastic-Free EcoChallenge. It also directly aligns with our conservation initiatives and has an important local effect.

Zoo Lake Debris

Storm water runoff has a negative impact on water quality. When rain washes across roadways, parking lots, and people’s yards it picks up litter and pollutants before washing into the storm drains and running into streams, rivers and lakes. In Zoo Lake, most of the trash accumulates in one corner - that's where we spent two days collecting everything we could see and reach with long pool nets. We removed several layers of plastic bottles, polystyrene cups, plastic straws, food wrappers, shoes, soccer balls and coat hangers.

Plastic waste collected from a previous lake clean up was exhibited on World Oceans Day in a Save Our Oceans demonstration, pictured below.

Save Our Oceans demonstration

We see pictures of turtles eating plastic in oceans far from home, but the problem exists right under our noses. When plastics enter waterways they start to breakdown into microplastics that threaten the diverse flora and fauna in our local lakes and rivers. Wildlife confuses the plastic with food and eats it or can be trapped in it. Once the fish or birds eat the plastic, the next link in their food chain eats them and it can end up in our stomachs. Researchers have estimated that the average person’s yearly consumption is 74,000 particles of plastic. Air, bottled water and seafood account for the highest microplastic intake. You can prevent plastic pollution by picking up litter, recycling and replacing disposable plastic with reusable items, like water bottles. Help save our oceans and our lakes!

-McKinly Dortsch

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