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Conserving Lake Biodiversity will Help Restructure America’s Natural Ecology
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ONC Editorial

Dec 07, 2023

In order to combat the increasing problem of water pollution and lake contamination, there must be another kick-start in lake conservationist policies and regulation. (The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the individual author, Sree Karnati.)

Biodiversity in lakes is the biological and ecological  makeup of freshwater bodies of water. This includes different species of fish, water-based plants, aquatic organisms and even land animals that utilize the resources in a lake-ecosystem. In fact, some of these organisms are completely specific to the freshwater lakes they live in and can only be found in these ecosystems. 

Freshwater lakes have comprised these organisms for several thousands of years with relatively no issue. Organisms fell into extinction or grew in population size based on the natural progression of the ecosystem. 

However, with the advent of human technologies like factories as well as general air and water pollution, the biodiversity of American lakes are at great risk. In order to protect these freshwater lake ecosystems, regulations must be placed to prevent extreme air and water pollution, the introduction of invasive species and ecosystem destruction. 

A major issue with the United States’ freshwater lakes is the presence of extremely toxic chemicals like mercury and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These pollutants can be brought into lake-ecosystems from a variety of sources like manufacturing, boating and farming industries. The use of pesticides, as well as toxic chemical dumps, causes harmful genetic mutations for many freshwater aquatic organisms which hurts the ecology of the lake. 

If fish or plants contaminated by toxins are consumed, whether by humans or other animals, there are great public health risks like mercury poisoning and the emergence of disease. Even for the animals in a lake-ecosystem, genetic mutations and toxic contamination in freshwater environments can completely switch the normal ecological processes in a lake like predator-prey relations, maintenance of standard species population levels and normal salinity and cleanliness levels of the lake. 

Regulations on private corporations, as well as big factories, are necessary to slow down the spread of pollutants in fresh bodies of water. However, it is not the only action the United States can take to protect lake biodiversity. 

A main component in freshwater pollution are some of the country’s own federal agencies. For example, many U.S. military bases use per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the production of many of their widely used materials like food packaging, adhesives and fire-fighting foams. 

These man-made chemicals are often called “forever chemicals” because it takes an extremely long time for them to decompose. When PFAS contaminate freshwater systems, the biodiversity of lakes, as well as the organisms that consume the water or animals in the lakes, are at risk of harmful genetic mutations, increased risk of diseases and other potentially life-threatening problems. Strict rules and regulations must be placed on the use of PFAS for both private corporations and United States’ federal, state and local agencies.

Maintaining lake biodiversity is not a new proposal in the United States. In fact, the premise of lake conservation in America dates back over a century. However, in order to combat the increasing problem of water pollution and lake contamination, there must be another kick-start in lake conservationist policies and regulations.

Sree Karnati is a high school senior from Texas. She plans on attending college after graduation, where she will major in STEM to aid her in her pursuit of a career in medicine. She is an intern with the Science, Environmental, & Technology team at Our National Conversation (ONC) and has been with the organization since May 2022.

Sources:

Ahmad, Sidrah. “Pollution Levels in the Great Lakes.” Waterlogic, Waterlogic Holdings, 18 Oct. 2018, https://www.waterlogic.com/en-us/resources-blog/the-great-lakes/.

Hayes, Jared, and Scott Faber. “Updated Map: Suspected and Confirmed PFAS Pollution at U.S. Military Bases.” Environmental Working Group, Environmental Working Group, 2 Apr. 2020, https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/updated-map-suspected-and-confirmed-pfas-pollution-us-military-bases.

“Persistent Organic Pollutants: A Global Issue, A Global Response.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 2002, https://www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/persistent-organic-pollutants-global-issue-global-response.

“PFAS Contaminated Water on Military Bases - DAV.” DAV, https://www.dav.org/wp-content/uploads/PFAS-Contaminated-Water-on-Military-Bases-2020.pdf.

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