Earth Day Cleanup
Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge holds kayak, canoe river clean
Due to COVID-19, all events have been spaced out to help keep crowds down.
Kayakers paddled the river, scanning for trash in the water and along the shore. A bigger boat collected what was found.
Michael Schramm, visitor services manager with the refuge, said the event is an effort to protect wildlife habitats and local animals.
Schramm said many items found are not thrown into the river, but end up there through flooding. Items found Saturday included bike wheels, a fire extinguisher, plastic and lots of nylon rope.
Elaine Barr, the refuge wildlife biologist, spoke about how items washed into the Ohio River can impact the river ecosystem.
“In terms of the trash, it impacts multiple levels of the ecosystem, from the birds who eat it and can be hurt or killed by it to the structure of the river bottom,” she said.
According to information provided by the refuge, freshwater mussels are an effective natural filtration system. A sign at the refuge notes that 250 mussels could make the water in a backyard pool green with algae “crystal clear” in just 10 days.
The Ohio River was once practically paved in mussels, with almost 80 species calling it home and reliably reducing silt, sediment and pollutants, according to the refuge. But they have declined in the last century, which has compromised the river ecosystem’s health. There are only 47 mussel species living in the river today.
“With mussels, heavy things like tires or barrels can sink to the bottom and cause damage to the river floor,” said Barr. “After time, plastic breaks down to micro-plastic, which is hard to get out of the water and filter feeders can then absorb them.”
The refuge asks that if residents see trash in a safe place to be picked up, they remove it so it doesn’t reach the river when it rains and floods.
“Trash in our river goes to the Mississippi and Gulf waters,” said Schramm.
“One person cleaning up might not seem like much, but together we can make a real impact,” said Barr.
Madeline Scarborough can be reached at mscarborough.com