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Christmas Trees Wreaking Havoc Within Aquatic Ecosystems

Christmas: Though it’s a joyous time of year, it unfortunately concludes with an abundance of waste in the form of wrapping and tissue paper, cardboard boxes, bags, bows and ribbon. Shoppers are even sometimes forced to recycle old clothes and electronics after Saint Nick places new wardrobes and iPhones under the tree. But once all the presents are unwrapped and the decorations put away, the bare Christmas tree will also be tossed away.

The now naked fir, spruce or pine can be recycled at most yard waste facilities; however, a popular tradition for those who live near a lake or stream is to toss the trees into the water. Believing this action has a more environmentally-conscious impact than placing it on the curb, some people are unaware of the effects this has on the waters’ ecosystems.

While the abandoned trees do provide coverage for small fish seeking protection, and this “natural” disposal is a better alternative to sending it to the dump, it still may not be the best place to send the once vibrant Christmas tree. Once festive evergreens slowly sink and settle at the bottom of lakes and streams, something fishy starts to happen.

When too many trees are thrown in a lake,the overall ecosystem of the lake may be effected. Tom Gibbins, general manager of Lake Cable, a small lake in Canton, Ohio, explained that negative reactions can occur when any material is introduced to a lake unnaturally. Gibbins explained that large plant matter like Christmas trees add to the siltation of a lake. Siltation is the pollution of water from excess land-based materials. Too much plant matter or runoff can create murky, uninhabitable waters for fish populations.

“At an early stage in the life of a lake, it begins to fill itself in,” said Gibbins. “Without man’s involvement it does this naturally through run off, leaves falling in the lake, dying animals and fish and weed growth.”

Gibbins further explained that when too much debris fills up the lake, more oxygen is needed to facilitate decomposition, leaving less oxygen for the fish and other living aquatic organisms.

The Christmas trees also create problems for those who wish to use these bodies of water for leisure. Many small lakes, such as Lake Cable, are frequented by pontoon boaters and recreational fisherman. Once spring comes and the boats are able to push off again, the anchors are known to get tangled around the Christmas trees. This then causes a recreational hazard that Gibbins has had to deal with year after year.

Although Gibbins prefers a natural approach when it comes to lakes, he does offer an alternative that helps the fish population while causing fewer recreational hazards.

“The new thinking is to install hardwood brush in much shallower water closer to shore and out of boating patterns,” explained Gibbins. So, the hardwood brush would be placed where small fish typically reside and the algae that would grow on the branches would then provide cover and a source of food for the fish.

The environmental impacts of Christmas trees in bodies of water ask communities to consider any materials placed in natural waters, regardless of the time of year. Lake managers and staff members can provide rules and regulations before boats leaves the dock. By keeping the Christmas trees and all other foreign materials out of local lakes and streams, instead recycling or reusing them in other ways, the Earth’s waterways will be more healthy and safe for all to enjoy.

Photos by Kaitlin Kulich, Staff Writer

Kaitlin is more than ready to put her green thumb, journalistic mind, and quirky artistic self to work here at College Green Magazine. Kaitlin is a freshman in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and is planning on specializing in environmental studies. Having a passion for the arts as well, Kaitlin is a part of The Lost Flamingo Company at Ohio…

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