In a recent article published on the website for NUSci, Northeastern’s student-run science publication (of which I am the current editor-in-chief), writer Lucas Principe describes invasive species as a global problem. He writes that when it comes to invasive species management, “the most important method in stopping the spread of pests is having an informed citizenry committed to protecting our ecosystems.”

This has certainly proven true in my home state of Michigan, where the Michigan Dune Alliance is currently working to stave off an array of invasive plants and insects that have made themselves at home on the iconic dunes, threatening the fragile stretches of sand that, at first glance, appear so solid and unflinching.

In a piece for Southwest Michigan Second Wave Media, journalist Mark Wedel writes about the different organizations, volunteer work and citizen action that need to come together in order to fight off the invasive organisms and preserve the dunes, which play an important rule in Michigan’s ecotourism during the summer months.

“The dunes are almost alive. They are a dynamic shifting mosaic of sand and species,” said Shaun Howard, eastern Lake Michigan project manager at the Nature Conservancy, in the article. “It’s globally rare…we have a tendency to take that amazing shoreline for granted.”

Despite my claim to affinity for water and sand, I think I might be among those who take the dunes for granted. Shaun and his colleagues aren’t taking anything for granted, though. Since the Michigan Dune Alliance was formed in 1999, the organization has collaborated with the Nature Conservancy and also receives funding from the Sustain Our Great Lakes Initiative. This confluence of Michigan volunteers, activists, and stakeholders is part of what has made it possible to weed out invasives like the troublesome baby’s breath, an attractive flowering weed that took over nearly 1,800 acres around Sleeping Bear Dunes in Northern Michigan.

Other prominent invasive species include the Asian longhorned beetle, which is known to dig holes in tree bark to bury its eggs, and the Japanese barberry, a small shrub that is found in woody areas.

Aside from recruiting volunteers and carrying out the necessary manual labor to weed out the invasive organisms, those fighting the battle against invasive species are hoping for greater public awareness of the topic. Principe makes a similar call to action in his NUSci article, referring to groups like the Dune Alliance as “organizations in the trenches fighting this war” against organisms that “are running wild through our ecosystems.”

It’s a fight against nature to preserve nature. This is certainly an accurate description of what’s been happening in Michigan lately. I’m glad that  there are so many passionate individuals who are poised to help, but after becoming more well versed on this topic, I’m also aware that as a citizen – as well as a journalist – I have a role to play.

Invasive species are a threat “we can actually do something about,” said Melanie Manion, National Resources supervisor for Ottawa County Parks in Grand Haven. “There are so many chances to volunteer to join the fight.” Hopefully this means there will also be more chances to write about it.

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