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Midwest

Serving Up Sustainability

September 04, 2020

Junior Tennis Ambassador Emeline Hanna of Alpena, Mich. has been named a 2020 recipient of the State of Michigan's Environmental Service Award for her work in exploring the effects microplastics have on our lakes and waterways.

 

Growing up surrounded by nature, Hanna described realizing her love of the natural world and sustainability from a young age. As she has learned more about the problems plaguing our environment, Hanna has made it her mission to make a difference in any way she can.

 

"Because of all the enjoyment I got from being on fairly clean beaches and all of the positive impacts it had on me, I wanted to make sure we could preserve that for future generations," said Hanna.

Hanna set to work with her advanced biology class at her high school where they decided to focus on microplastics. A microplastic, by definition, is plastic that is not visible to the naked eye that can make its way into drinking water and food we consume, such as fish, that are also consuming the plastic.

 

For their project, Hanna and her team traveled to beaches around Alpena and even to Lake Michigan to collect samples. Once they had these samples, the students filtered them so the sand would sink to the bottom and any plastic would float to the top. The final step was taking the sample under the microscope to see how many microplastics they could count.

 

Hanna said she was astonished with just how many microplastics they found. 

Many people, according to Hanna, do not realize that everyday products (such as spandex and fleece clothing items) can result in harmful plastics being released into the water supply. If a group of high school students could find evidence of microplastics, imagine what other advanced methods could find, said Hanna.

 

"I hope this spurs more action to do research into this, because we are just high schoolers with limited collection methods, and we were able to discover microplastics, so people with more professional equipment could do so much more and do a lot of research," said Hanna.

 

Hanna took their efforts one step further by creating a video documenting their findings to submit in a local film festival. It was from there that Hanna was nominated for the award, which she was shocked to learn she had won.

 

"I was just happy that if it helped change anyone's mind about preserving our natural beauty or inspired anyone, that would be enough," said Hanna.

 

This is just the first step of what University of Michigan-bound Hanna hopes to be a long career of promoting sustainability. Hanna's goal is to pursue a career in a field that would benefit the community and the environment, such as environmental engineering. As far as tennis, Hanna has loved the game for as long as she can remember and knows it will be part of her life for years to come.

 

"It would be a dream to be in a strong tennis community and where I could have an impact on younger tennis players coming up or just trying to spread the love of tennis," said Hanna.

 

Wherever Hanna's path leads her, she will continue to educate and encourage others that even the smallest action can cause a huge ripple of change.

 

"Whatever aspect of sustainability you are interested in, there are things you can research and look up to learn more about, and there are so many things you can do," said Hanna. "Even if they're small things, it makes a big difference."

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