Thursday, November 21, 2013

Invasive species, climate changes can combine to wreck havoc on Great Lakes loon population

Four times in the last seven years, migrating waterfowl in the Great Lakes basin, especially common loons, have experienced massive die offs during their fall migrations. These anomalies, if unchecked, can have dangerous repercussions for the survival of Michigan loons into the next decade.

But, for better and for worse, based upon an array of environmental and climatological conditions, one can set their clock by when the die offs take place. The next step, biologists say, is finding preventative measures to deal with those conditions to preserve a species already threatened in the state. The problem is, at this point, solutions are hard to come by. Unfortunately, the loons, a symbol of northern lakes and wild places with their eerily lonely two-note call, serve as the end result sentinel of a growing environmental danger in the Great Lakes.

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), there are about 30,000 common loons in the United States. During the breeding season, from early spring to late fall, about half of them reside in the Great Lakes’ states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

In 2012, thousands of dead birds, mainly common loons washed up dead on Lake Michigan shorelines – from the Upper Peninsula, down to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. A large percentage of the dead loons had just entered their first year of breeding maturity. While the mortality rate in 2012 was the worst on recent record, it followed similar incidents that took place in 2006, 2007 and 2010.

The Macomb Daily
15 Nov 2013
D Gardner

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Great Lakes Restoration Grant to Protect Lake Erie from Algal Blooms

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced that Ohio will receive a $500,000 federal grant from the Fiscal Year 2013 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). This grant will support both GLRI and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and will be used to implement field studies and lab experiments that will assess the quality of Lake Erie water.

“It is excellent news that Ohio is the first state to receive these federal funds so we can better protect water quality in Western Lake Erie,” Brown said. “Addressing toxic algal blooms is critical to protecting Ohio’s drinking water and the thousands of fishing, boating, and recreation jobs that depend on clean and safe waters. Still, with so much at stake, more can and should be done. That is why Congress must build on this momentum and fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for the safety and wellbeing of Ohio’s citizens.”

Specifically, the $500,000 GLRI grant will help protect Lake Erie by:
  • Tracking the movement of phosphorus and nitrogen, which is harmful to the quality of Lake Erie water;
  • Studying and analyzing Lake Erie nutrient sources that contribute to the formation Harmful Algal Blooms; and
  • Examining phosphorus loading to assess its effect on low oxygen levels, which is also harmful to the quality of Lake Erie water.
14 Nov 2013

Monday, October 7, 2013

Spread of Lake Erie’s toxic algae poses challenge to governments

Agencies issue call for decisive action in order to stem Lake Erie’s ‘green tide’

Lake Erie was always greener on the other side – until this year. The lake’s infamous toxic blue-green algae first made what’s become an annual summertime appearance along the southern Ontario shoreline in July this year.

It arrived on the lake a month earlier in a new spot, closing beaches in the Chatham-Kent area during some of the summer’s hottest days – and it raised a whole new set of alarm bells. A month later, when a small pocket of blue-green algae – actually a neurotoxic form of cyanobacteria – emerged in Presque Isle Bay off Erie, Pa., those alarms resounded even louder.

... “We’re very concerned,” said James Tierney, the Department of Environmental Conservation’s assistant commissioner for water. “We’ve been monitoring what’s going on.”

It is also why the International Joint Commission – an advisory body of United States and Canadian officials charged with remedying water quality concerns along the border – issued a recent report calling for the public to get involved and governments to take decisive, immediate action to stem this green tide from exploding on a lake that’s ripe for conquer.

“If the problem continues, at stake is a multibillion-dollar cost to one of our most precious resources,” said Raj Bejankiwar, an IJC Great Lakes scientist, following a recent IJC open house in Ontario. “How many people rely on drinking water systems on this lake? How many rely on the tourism industry? The beaches?”

The Buffalo News
05 Oct 2013
TJ Pignataro

Monday, August 12, 2013

Harmful algae makes Erie debut

Harry Leslie, operations manager of Presque Isle State Park, knows all about harmful 2011 algae blooms that kept swimmers out of the water and covered boats with a green slime 230 miles away in Port Clinton, Ohio.

Now, scientists have confirmed the presence of a harmful algae bloom in Presque Isle Bay, just a stone's throw away from Pennsylvania's busiest state park. And that, said Leslie, has his full attention. Algae aren't all created equal.

Steven Mauro, dean of the Morosky College of Health Professions and Sciences at Gannon University, said typical mats of green algae teem with bacteria. But most of it, he said, isn't harmful to humans.

As the name suggests, an HAB, or harmful algae bloom, is different. The algae -- characterized by its blue-green color that can look like paint on the surface of the water -- is capable of producing a toxin known as microcystin, which can lead to illness or death for humans or animals.

Mauro said scientists have known for some time that the potential for an algae bloom was lurking unseen in the waters near Erie.

Mauro, who received a research grant from Pennsylvania Sea Grant to study the algae, said he was not surprised by recent confirmation by the state Department of Environmental Protection that a small-scale HAB find had been made in the waters of the bay. Tests to confirm its presence had indicated blooms would likely develop.

Evidence of the bloom could be seen Tuesday near Perry's Landing and near the head of the bay along the eastern edge of Presque Isle State Park.

More rain and a particular combination of weather factors could prompt the bloom to spread, but Mauro isn't overly worried, noting that the algae thrives in the slower-moving waters of the bay.

Erie Times-News
08 Aug 2013
J Martin

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Carbon acidification could cause problems for Great Lakes wildlife

Available data from the Environmental Protection Agency suggests the Great Lakes could be soaking up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which could change the pH levels in the water and have a negative impact on wildlife.

Galen McKinley, ocean sciences professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said while data is currently limited, computer projections suggest the Great Lakes’ waters are becoming more acidic due to human carbon emissions. She said a similar process is happening in the open oceans.

...The biological impact of a lower pH level is unknown for the Great Lakes specifically, but McKinley said based on the data from the oceans, some species, such as algae, would thrive, while others, such as mussels, would suffer. While that would help with eliminating invasive mussels, McKinley believes the native species will suffer too.

Planet Tech News
25 Jul 2013
A Muller

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Study of gene expression in common blue-green algae reveals what makes it bloom, toxic

Blue-green algae blooms formed by Microcystis.
Credit: Scott Kishbaugh
If your local pond, lake, or watering hole is looking bright green this summer, chances are it has blue-green algae and it may be dangerous to you or your pets. A newly published study has used a novel approach to better understand why these algae form blooms and what makes them toxic.

Matthew Harke and Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, used global gene expression analysis of the most common blue-green algae, Microcystis, to uncover how it uses different types of nutrients to form blooms and what regulates the production of its toxin, microcystin. The study, entitled "Global transcriptional responses of the toxic cyanobacterium, Microcystis aeruginosa, to nitrogen stress, phosphorus stress, and growth on organic matter," published in the July 23rd edition of the journal PLoS ONE, is the first to use this approach with this algae.

"Toxic blue-green algae blooms are a common phenomenon in freshwater lakes and ponds, particularly during summer and early fall," says Dr. Gobler. "These algae can create various toxins that can harm humans, pets, and aquatic life."

24 Jul 2013
S Kishbaugh

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Under cover of darkness, researchers capture, track loons in Minn.

How do you sneak up on a loon? That's the question this night as wildlife scientists slide a boat into South Turtle Lake, a few miles east of Fergus Falls.

The biologists want to know why so many of the iconic birds die of botulism poisoning on the Great Lakes every fall. They want to learn more about environmental toxins loons face on their long annual migration. But first they have to catch them.

...Scooping the adult into a fishing net, U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist Kevin Kenow sees it's the male of this loon family, wearing the leg band researchers put on a year ago. He snags the small, brown-colored chick but can't find the female. He decides to head back to shore and get data from the male and chick so they can be released.

South Turtle Lake is one stop on a three-week tour of lakes across Minnesota and Wisconsin. The states boast the greatest concentration of nesting loons in the U.S....Using a tiny needle, Kenow draws a blood sample. He also clips off a wing feather. The blood and the feather can tell scientists if this loon was exposed to residue from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 or mercury and other contaminants.

On Lake Michigan, the data revealed loons feed farther off shore than previously thought, with the birds diving repeatedly to depths of about 150 feet.

That means they're feeding on fish near the lake bottom, which might make them susceptible to toxic botulism that grows in the algae there.

Minnesota Public Radio
15 Jul 2013
D Gunderson