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The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on the Earth's surface, home to a fragile fishery, and delicate shoreline beaches and dunes. They are also central to northern Michigan tourism, economies and our way of life.

Rescuers Warn Swimmers

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Police and the U.S. Coast Guard are urging people not to swim in Grand Traverse Bay or other frigid bodies of water.

A social media challenge has many teenagers and some adults heading to the beach for a quick dip and challenging their friends to do the same.

Luke Cotturone is a rescue swimmer at the Coast Guard station in Traverse City. He says people don’t understand the kind of spasms ice cold water can induce, even to the point of cutting off a person’s airway in extreme circumstances. He says a swimmer is also likely to gasp for breath involuntarily and could inhale water.

Cotturone says these cold water challenges are not like an organized polar bear swim.

"It’s completely different than the polar plunge because there’s no advanced life support hanging out, waiting for something to happen," he says. "There’s also not a sheriff’s department diver in the water with you to grab you as these reactions start to happen."

Cotturone says a bad situation can be made worse when people try to rescue someone who is struggling.

Grand Traverse County 911 is also trying to tamp down the enthusiasm. A link posted on 911's Facebook page featured an article about a man from Sturgis who fractured his neck when he dove into a lake and was paralyzed from the waist down.

More than 150 people commented on the posting, and many pointed out that it wasn't the water temperature that caused the problem.