New dangerous currents outreach program focuses on Michigan’s Great Lakes coasts
ANN ARBOR—The Michigan Sea Grant program is leading a new public outreach project aimed at reducing the risk of drowning from dangerous currents, which occur throughout the Great Lakes and are especially common along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.
Michigan Sea Grant, a cooperative program between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, received two grants totaling $110,000 from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to fund its Dangerous Currents Outreach Project through 2015.
The five Great Lakes have more than 10,000 miles of coastline, bordering eight states and two countries. Last year, there were seven current-related fatalities in the region, and most of them occurred in Michigan.
Though beach signs, brochures, flag warning systems and other methods have been used for years, initial research from Michigan Sea Grant and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates a general lack of public awareness about the risks posed by dangerous currents.
“Michigan’s Great Lakes coasts, and the shore of Lake Michigan in particular, have become the epicenter of drowning-related deaths in the Great Lakes region,” said Elizabeth LaPorte, communications and education services director at Michigan Sea Grant.
Irresponsible behavior by swimmers—such as jumping off piers, breakwaters and other structures—continues to be a factor in deaths tied to dangerous currents, particularly among young men. As part of the new project, targeted messages will address young men and parents with young children.
“A coordinated and concentrated effort with the right resources will help reduce the number of deaths due to dangerous currents, and Michigan Sea Grant is uniquely positioned to pull these partners and resources together with a common mission,” LaPorte said.
Recently, Michigan Sea Grant introduced new curricula to K-12 teachers at the Michigan Science Teachers Association annual conference. Sea Grant specialists will conduct additional workshops for state parks employees and others in 2014. Targeted messages and handouts will be shared with the public, and a new web-based, searchable database using National Weather Service data will be available in mid-April.
Dangerous currents of various types can form along popular Great Lakes swimming beaches. They include rip currents, which can pull swimmers away from shore. Some swimmers panic and try to swim directly against a rip current, which can quickly lead to exhaustion.
Michigan Sea Grant and NOAA experts advise people to swim at an angle out of the current and then back to shore. Swimmers may need to alternate floating and swimming to conserve energy.
Most Great Lakes beaches do not have trained lifeguards to help swimmers in trouble. To address this issue, Michigan Sea Grant and the state Department of Natural Resources are installing new emergency rescue and water safety equipment in targeted areas along Lake Michigan. New messages will focus on the fact that swimming near piers and breakwaters can be deadly.
Partners in the Dangerous Currents Outreach Project include the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
- First responders, community leaders and others are invited to participate. For more information, visit the project website at www.dangerouscurrents.org.
- Michigan Sea Grant focuses on Great Lakes research, outreach and education and is supported by NOAA: www.miseagrant.umich.edu.
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