If you love something, you want to protect it.
That’s how surfing-enthusiast Michelle Carandang feels about Lake Erie. “Living in Lakewood, I go to the beach a lot,” she says. “I was really frustrated by how dirty it is.”
In October 2021, Carandang launched Keep the Lakes Great. With a motto of “Protect the Turf and Ride the Surf,” the nonprofit couldn’t be simpler. Those who volunteer to help clean up a local beach receive a free surfing lesson from Carandang or one of the organization’s other members.
The group meets about 15 times throughout the year at beaches from Lorain to Mentor, picking up trash as large as old tires and as small as microplastics. “There’s plastic in the water that we can’t even see and it’s crazy,” says Carandang. “It’s actually in the water we consume.”
Carandang and her team use strainers to find microplastics, which are defined as pieces of plastic less than 5 millimeters long. It’s a good task, she says, for someone who may be a little less mobile, as they can sit in one spot while still aiding the cause.
During one of its recent efforts held in late September at Edgewater Beach in Cleveland, Carandang says the group collected more than 50 pounds of trash.
“We had so many small bits of plastic and Styrofoam,” she says. “Fifty-three pounds of very lightweight plastic is a lot.”
Carandang, who works as a senior digital marketing manager for Blue Sky Bee Supply in Ravenna, learned to surf while attending Bowling Green State University. The university funded all student-run groups, so a group of enterprising beach lovers managed to get a paid trip to California.
“That was the first time I actually got to stand on a board,” Carandang says.
When she learned after graduation that surfing is possible in Lake Erie she was all for it. Then reality hit.
“Can you imagine surfing through piles of trash, which happens?” she asks. “I had to remove a door once.”
But the 400 tons of trash she says is in Lake Erie does not deter her. Instead, it inspires her and her fellow volunteers to tackle it one piece at a time, while also working with local officials to help end the lakefront littering that causes so much of the problem. Plastic straw wrappers and cigarette butts, for example, are two of the most common items the group finds — and they just
“If you go [to a beach] in the morning, you come back at night and it’s trashed,” Carandang says.
It’s the love for the lake that keeps Carandang and her fellow volunteers going strong and continuing to grow the group and the effort.
“At the end of the day, we’re building connections with people who genuinely care about the cause,” Carandang says.