Melissa Duhaime and her daughter, Hanalei

Female scientists from the U.S. and Canada set sail Aug. 20, 2016 on all five Great Lakes and connecting waterways to sample plastic debris pollution and to raise public awareness about the issue.

Event organizers say eXXpedition Great Lakes 2016 included the largest number of simultaneous samplings for aquatic plastic debris in history. The all-female crew members on the seven lead research vessels also aim to inspire young women to pursue careers in science and engineering.

Teams of researchers collected plastic debris on the five Great Lakes, as well Lake St. Clair-Detroit River and the Saint Lawrence River. Data collected will contribute to growing open-source databases documenting plastic and toxic pollution and their impacts on biodiversity and waterway health, according to event organizers.

Two University of Michigan faculty members, biologist Melissa Duhaime and Laura Alford of the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, led the Lake St. Clair-Detroit River team, aboard a 30-foot sailboat.

"There is a place for scientists in this type of public outreach, and it is a complement to the research that we do," said Duhaime, an assistant professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

"In a single day through an event like this, we can potentially reach orders of magnitude more people than we do when we publish our scientific papers, which are read mainly by other scientists. And greater public awareness about this topic, rooted in rigorously collected and interpreted data, can certainly lead to changed behavior in our relationships with plastics."

Duhaime's lab studies the sources of Great Lakes plastics, as well as how they are transported within the lakes and where they end up. The work has involved a summer on three of the Great Lakes, trips to Detroit-area wastewater treatment plants, and the sampling of fish and mussels.

The U-M EEB crew included: Katherine Hunsberger, research technician in the Duffy Lab and Duhaime. Others from U-M were: undergraduate Kristen Hayden, freshman, planning to study environmental science and Alford.

View photos in a Google web album>>

Read full Michigan News press release

Read and hear more in some of the media coverage of the event: Big Ten Network, Michigan Radio's Environment Report (Duhaime is interviewed)