Starting in Wisconsin, three friends will set out across Lake Michigan in two sailboats the size of twin beds to raise money and awareness for Great Lakes protection.

The Chicago residents will begin their voyage in mid-September, sailing 65 miles and hoping to raise $10,000 for the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, sponsored by the University of Michigan and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Drew Fries, J.T. Bohland and Erik Ejups, all 27 years old, grew up together in Clarkston, which is surrounded by lakes. As teens, Fries and Ejups taught sailing to children and said they are passionate about the environment. .

“All of the proceeds will go on to help fund current research projects,” Fries said. “It’s this kind of research that allows us, as a world, to be proactive and make educated decisions about the way we live in the face of climate change.”

Fries, who grew up on a tree farm in Clarkston and is in corporate financing with Kraft Heinz, and Bohland, who works at Fitness Formula Club, said they are worried about the wind and being separated during their journey in a Sunfish and a Laser 2.

“Because of weight distribution, we are taking two boats and we will need about 15 knots of wind to get up to 17 miles per hour. Otherwise, we’ll be leaving during sunrise from Milwaukee and see another sunrise in Michigan,” Bohland said.

“If we don’t have enough wind on Sept. 16, we may have to postpone,” Fries said. “The goal is to make it in 16 hours, but it depends on the wind. If it’s too much wind, it could also be very dangerous.”

Tom Johengen, associate director of the institute and a research scientist, said many threats imperil the Great Lakes. He and his colleagues have been focused on researching harmful algal blooms, invasive species, low oxygen levels and more.

“Everything ties back to land activity,” Johengen said. “Nutrient pollution has led to the algal bloom; species like Asian carp, zebra and quagga mussels have changed ... (the) health of the lakes.”

Johengen said water level fluctuation rates are the highest he’s ever seen.

“Based on our climate action we are affecting our lake levels, and these are faster than any rates from the last decade,” he said. “Going from a high to a low level at rates we’ve never seen before. It’s also a big commercial and economic impact because as water levels change, that affects how much we can ship.”

In its weekly lake levels report Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that lakes Michigan-Huron, Erie and Ontario had declined by 1, 5, and 13 inches, respectively in the past month, while Lake Superior had risen 2 inches over that time and Lake St. Clair remained near the same level. All of the lakes are above their long term-average September levels.

As of Friday evening, the three sailors’ GoFundMe page had raised more than $1,500. Johengen said he would direct the funds to the institute’s eco program to boost public awareness and challenge policymakers.

“We hope we can help communities prepare and be more resilient about our lakes, and, hopefully, our research can reduce those impacts by defining strategies to combat the threats,” Johengen said.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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