Bellow Island's herring gulls helped get DDT banned

May 13, 2015

The herring gulls of Bellow Island played a large role in the US government's decision to ban the use of DDT.
Credit user Steve Voght / flickr


If there's one pesticide most everyone can name, it's DDT.

When the U.S. government banned DDT in 1972, it was seen as a great victory for the environment.

But you might be surprised to learn that tiny Bellow Island (colloquially known as Gull Island, off the shore of Northport in Leelanau County) played a huge role in convincing the government to ban DDT.

Jeff Smith is a writer and editor for Traverse Magazine. His story about the herring gulls of Gull Island and the role they played in regulating DDT is in the May issue of the magazine.

We also spoke to Dr. James Ludwig, a University of Michigan graduate whose research was the first to prove that DDT, after decades of use as a pesticide, was affecting the shells of herring gull eggs on Gull Island.

Smith says this story reinforces the idea that baseline research, like that done by Ludwig, is essential to our understanding of how pollutants affect the environment.