Vicki Richmond, a river advocate, warned local high schoolers about an invasive species of fish known to jump into boats.
“Asian carp were brought over to clean up algae at farms in the '70s,” she told the students, “but they escaped into big rivers and our water systems.”
This was one of several ecological lessons Leslie Mallinson’s marine biology summer school class learned during a cleanup mission at the Missouri River Tuesday.
The Independence School District students, ranging from incoming freshmen to recent high school graduates, took a ride on a motorboat Tuesday morning to scour one of the longest rivers in the United States for waste that is polluting the waterway. Outfitted with life jackets and armed with fishing nets, the biology class traveled both up and downstream off the banks at LaBenite Park in Sugar Creek to remove trash, such as chunks of styrofoam, plastic water bottles and even a discarded item believed to have dated back to nearly 70 years ago.
“Look at this,” Richmond said to the students while raising up a brown-colored glass bottle. “It’s an old Clorox bottle from the 1940s.”
Besides the excursion just being a field trip to supplement what the science class has been learning the past month, students were also informed about the importance of preserving the water system that, unbeknownst to them, they are using every day.
“How many of you brush your teeth?” Richmond asked the class. “The water that you use to rinse comes from a well field outside the river and is treated and filtered.”
Richmond said she is with the Healthy Rivers Partnership, a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting people to their rivers through cleanups and watershed education.
“We were a river town before becoming a big city,” Richmond said of the Kansas City metropolitan area. “Since the great flood in the 1950s, we all of a sudden stopped thinking about them (local rivers).”
As the boat later approached a rubbish pile made up of tree limbs and litter near the river’s north bank off Missouri 291, she said an overwhelming percentage of the trash accumulated atop it was the result of either automobiles littering from a nearby bridge or parties being held at LaBenite Park.
Mallinson added most of the trash comes out of storm drains that empty into the Missouri River. This litter that is not properly discarded, she said, is blown by winds or washed away by rain into these storm drains.
“It’s entirely preventable,” she said about river pollution while holding a plastic crate used for holding bread or other baked goods. She added the crate was found off a beach in Northern Queensland, Australia, during a recent trip.
It also had a marking that read “Kansas City, Missouri.”
“I found rubbish from a total of 19 countries that washed up along that beach,” Mallinson said.
Whether the crate was mishandled and tossed off a shipping boat or simply adrift due to negligence does not matter, Mallinson said, but the more important lesson is prevention.
“Waste management is kind of like people management. We need to devise better waste management schemes.”
She told her students pieces of trash that end up in the Missouri River can go a long way if not correctly disposed.
“The Missouri River goes into the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico and meets the Carribbean Sea.”
The students who were aboard the boat seemed to take note of their instructors’ plea for a cleaner Missouri River by eagerly tapping a peer’s shoulder whenever they spotted debris floating on the river or hastily scooping up trash with their fishing nets.
“Maybe you can help us clean the river again October 5 at Kaw Point,” Richmond told the students.
For more information about Healthy Rivers Partnership and its waterway cleaning efforts that include the Little Blue River, visit http://www.healthyriverspartnership.com/ .