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Saving the Lakes, one beach at a time

AAAIMG_9027Kai Konyha hopped off a yellow school bus at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Highland Park on a hot sunny Friday afternoon for Great Lakes Action Day.

The Shedd Aquarium partnered with Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, one of the oldest metropolitan conservation organizations. The partnership is designed toprotect and conserve the Great Lakes.

“We started last year, and it’s been really successful,” said Reid Bogert, Shed Aquarium coordinator for Great Lakes and Sustainability. ”You get to connect with younger people, to people from different parts of the state, which is really cool.”

Konyha was one of 30 students from The Encampment for Citizenship, a non-profit organization that conducts residential summer programs for young adults all over the United States. These kids range from ages 15-18 and are from all over the United States including California, New Jersey, New York and Chicago.

The Great Lakes Action Day was open for the public to volunteer as well.

About 35 volunteers suited up in brown and tan waders and went straight for the chilled water.  With the help of Phil Willink, Shedd Aquarium research biologist, they went on the hunt for local fishes nearshore. Through all the algae everyone was surprised that they actually caught fish, tiny fish but fish none the less.

“I didn’t think they were going to be any fish in there,” Konyha said.

Bogert announced that the fish that were found were less common on the shoreline. They identified the Lake Michigan bloater fish that normally lives in very deep water.

“I have never studied beaches, fish, or bodies of water in such an engaging way so this hands on experience was unique,” Konyha said. It taught me more about Chicago’s aquatic community and the importance of nature, which we take for granted.”

For a lot of kids, including Konyha, this was the first time catching and holding a fish.

“We had such a wonderful time out there by the water,” said Alicia Green, Encampment for Citizenship counselor.

The volunteers swapped waders for green buckets and headed to the sand for a beach cleanup.

“Of course, a GLAD wouldn’t be complete without a little beach cleanup action,” Bogert said.

They picked up plastic, foam, cigarette butts, and even some fish skeletons that had washed up from the cold winter.

“Before actually having to clean a beach, I had never paid much attention to the cleanliness of beaches,” Konyha said. “I used to just see the beach as a hang out location with sand and dirty water but I did not think of the organisms inhabited on the beach and the effects garbage could have on them.”

Aimee Collins, site manager for Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, encouraged that people to come out to enjoy the beauty of the low profile preserve.

Though this was Konyha first time in Chicago, it was not her first time in a community service like program. Konyha, 16, is a New York native and has been enjoying her time in Chicago with only just one week left. She plans to hang out with her friends for three weeks when she returns to New York and then she is off to another community service program in Costa Rica.














“Although I am not passionate about environmental studies, I definitely understand the importance of clean beaches for the sake of people who go to the beach, the environment, and the homes of the organism who live there,” Konyha said.  “And I hope others share the urge to keep the beaches tidy.”


The Encampment for Citizenship volunteers head to the beach with clean up supplies in hand


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