Co-written by Shasta Bray and Julianne Werts, AmeriCorps Visitor Engagement Member
Here at the Cincinnati Zoo, we strive to promote and engage in conservation around the world, as well as within our own community. We are strengthening this commitment to conservation action with the creation of the new Lion’s Share Family Community Service program. Through this program, we provide opportunities for people in our local community to join folks from the Zoo in fun, hands-on and local conservation projects.
We kicked off the program last month with an awesome river clean-up! Did you know the Ohio River is the largest river, by volume, that flows into the Mississippi River, and is one of the most polluted rivers in the country? Not only do fish, waterfowl, beavers and more wildlife depend on the Ohio River for habitat; millions of people also rely on the Ohio River as a source of drinking water.
For this first project, we had the wonderful opportunity to partner with Living Lands & Waters (LL&W), an environmental organization that focuses on cleaning up the rivers within the Mississippi River watershed. Their team spends nine months every year living on a barge, traveling the river system, and cleaning up the trash they find along the banks. Since LL&W was founded in 1998, they have helped remove over nine million pounds of trash from 23 rivers in 20 states, nearly all of which is then recycled.
During their stop in Cincinnati, we organized a group of 30 volunteers, including adults, families and small groups, through the Family Community Service program to participate in a river shore clean-up. In a single morning, we picked up 1,454 pounds of trash!
It was quite a shock when we stepped out of the boats onto shore to realize that what appeared to be a lushly vegetated area of land was actually covered in garbage—we found tires, Styrofoam, soccer balls, an old TV, and so many plastic bottles and other single-use plastics. Chemicals from trash can leach into the water, which eventually flows downstream into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s hard to imagine that a plastic bottle on the ground in Ohio can affect a frog in Mississippi or a manatee in Florida.
While helping to clean up the river is a great step, it’s even more effective to avoid the mess in the first place. By refusing single-use plastic products, we can dramatically decrease the amount of trash that ends up in our waterways. This can be as simple as asking for no straw at a drive-thru or drinking from a reusable water bottle. As a community, taking small actions like these can make a big difference for wildlife and the environment.
This was just the first of many opportunities to make a positive difference for our community through the Family Community Service program. At our next event on November 4, we’ll help the Zoo’s Horticulture team propagate new plants (splitting and repotting) to lay the foundation for a healthy wetland ecosystem at the Zoo’s 600-acre farm in Warren County. We’ll also be building bat houses, preparing milkweed seeds for planting, and monitoring frogs over the next six months.
Sound like fun? Join us! Learn more about the Family Community Service program and how to get involved here.