CLEVELAND — Along the shores of Lake Erie, a grassroots effort is underway. A small non-profit called Eriesponsible is doing it's part to help keep the lake free of marine debris.
"Unfortunately we could clean until we're blue in the face every day. And, if it's 2000 pounds a year we pull out, that's really nothing compared to the 2 million plus pounds that get dumped into the Great Lakes every year," said Director/President Joshua Dysktra.
Dykstra sells insurance in Westlake by day. But in his spare time, you can find him back on his childhood beaches, cleaning up after others. For Dykstra, the mission hits close to home.
"I'm from Port Clinton, and a lot of us that started [the organization] are from here. We're boaters. We grew up on the lake," he said. "The goal of Eriesponsible is to maintain the health of Lake Erie for future generations."
The small nonprofit is a true boots-on-the-ground effort. With the help of volunteers, Eriesponsible organizes regular cleanups across the Lake Erie shoreline - at marinas, fishing piers, and even out on the water itself.
"[The bucket,] it fills up pretty quick, but I kind of anticipated it," said volunteer Alex Lamp at a recent cleanup. "People come out fish all day and uh, sit down in the sun and you know, they're tired. They don't always, uh, kind of clean up so well after themselves."
But along with the physical cleanup, Eriesponsible focuses on awareness and education about the health of the lake… which is facing increasing levels of trash, microplastics and invasive species. Some of that effort comes through programming in schools - some of it is generated by a line of popular merchandise.
Graphic designer Josh Soderberg says he jumped at the chance to help design the group's logo, t-shirts and more.
"Every little bit counts to help...get [the message] out there so that we can... extend it for our children and our grandchildren to keep enjoying this lake."
That message is why 3News Meteorologist Matt Wintz brought his own daughter Emmie out for a cleanup day - to see what it means to be "eriesponsible" firsthand.
Unfortunately, Matt and Emmie encountered no shortage of trash along the Port Clinton State Access Fishing Pier. Dysktra says the endless amount of trash left behind is no surprise - but a big part of his mission is to open eyes and change habits.
"You know, the fisherman thinks, 'oh, well, I'll just set that there that's no big deal it'll float. Or, you know, somebody will pick it up later.' Well, unfortunately styrofoam does break down," he said. "It breaks down into microfoam and the microfoam is what the fish and the birds are then consuming."
But by making small changes like limiting single use plastics and simply cleaning up after ourselves, Dykstra is hoping we can all make a real difference.
"We're not gonna be able to change everybody's mind, but I think if we start with younger generations and then they continue that on to their children, that's where hopefully, we'll have a healthier lake, 20, 30, 50, a hundred years from now," he explained. "And that's what we're aiming for."
It’s a lesson he's passing down to his own son Jameson - that a shared love for the lake comes with a shared responsibility for it’s future.
"I feel like [the cleanups are] a good thing, but I feel like it's not everything," Jameson said after picking up trash at Port Clinton City Beach. "But it's at least something and, and we're doing something about it. So it’s good."
If you're interested in volunteering, donating, or getting involved, please visit: Eriesponsible.org.
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