The Lake Erie Shoreline Project

If you haven’t walked along a Lake Erie beach lately, maybe you haven’t seen those tiny, crunchy white-bleached shells, piling up in mounds and causing beach-goers to wonder, “What’s going on here?”

Over in Lorain County, and along the beaches of western Ohio, the shells are especially bad and folks want to know how to get rid of the stuff.

Since 1988, zebra mussels have been invading Lake Erie waterways and other parts of the Great Lakes. And although a number of grants have been written to lessen the impending threat, there appears to be few solutions for removing the piles and piles that have washed up along shores.

On a speck of beach in Lorain County, Ohio, mounds of zebra mussel shells are among the worst seen in over a decade. For the last few years, mountains of shells have been dwarfing the shoreline of Lake Erie. In early May 2013, beachgoers walked among the shells, where more than 300 fish lay dying.

In August of 2012, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan reportedly had one of the worst algae blooms in its history, due primarily to the invasion of zebra mussels. These tiny creatures have also impacted the Great Lakes fishing industry to the tune of $7 billion while disrupting power plants and water treatment facilities.

Although the Invasive Species Council has been working with scientists, environmental agencies, businesses, and government entities to combat the problem, I wondered what might be done to address the removal of these shells in quiet little beach towns. I reached out to biologists, professors, horticulturalists and organic farmers. Throughout all my conversations, I found people who were equally curious.

In August of 2013, I took a trip to Cornell University to figure out a way to put all these excess shells to good use. I met with researchers and they told me an effective way to compost the shells, and create a model for re-use.

Over the past year, I have been working with urban gardeners and city youth, mixing the compost and experimenting on gardens and backyard lot. There are a lot of community parks and gardens that could benefit, so I hope to work with people who can use the compost.

Collaborating with researchers will prove to be a great partnership. If you have suggestions or want to get involved, shoot me an e-mail.