Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Scientists seeks solutions to Lake Erie algae

Toxic algae blooms on Lake Erie may form more often unless farms and cities do a better job of controlling runoff of nutrients that feed them, a scientist said Tuesday as specialists developed proposals for confronting the threat.

About 40 experts met for two days in Windsor, Ontario, to compare research findings about the lake's struggles with algae and work on a report for government policymakers. The gathering was convened by the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency that advises both nations on issues affecting shared waterways.

Blue-green algae is native to Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes and the smallest by volume. But the lake has been plagued by increasingly large masses of the substance over the past decade. An outbreak in 2011 spread across huge sections of the central and western basins.

The blooms produce toxins and suck oxygen from the water, creating "dead zones" where little if anything can live. Dogs have died after swimming in the lake and licking themselves, said Jeff Reutter, director of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program, who attended the Windsor session. Water contaminated with blue-green algae has been fatal to people in some places, though not in North America, he said.

Wall Street Journal -
26 Feb 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Rain, Then Foul Algae in Ailing Lake Erie

Algae blooms, like this one in 2011, are threatening Lake Erie.
Brenda Culler/ODNR Coastal Management
... Lake Erie is sick. A thick and growing coat of toxic algae appears each summer, so vast that in 2011 it covered a sixth of its waters, contributing to an expanding dead zone on its bottom, reducing fish populations, fouling beaches and crippling a tourism industry that generates more than $10 billion in revenue annually.

The spring rains reliably predict how serious the summer algae bloom will be: the more frequent and heavy the downpours, the worse the outbreak. And this year the National Weather Service says there is a higher probability than elsewhere of above-normal spring rains along the lake’s west end, where the algae first appear. The private forecaster Accuweather predicts a wetter than usual March and April throughout the region.

... But while the sewage and pollutants are vastly reduced, the blooms have returned, bigger than ever.

New York Times
14 Mar 2013
M Wines

Monday, March 18, 2013

Conference stresses different roles for keepers of lake’s health

When your name says “waterkeeper” and your area of interest is the 12th largest lake in the world, you need a pretty big tent to bring all of the parties with a vested interest together.

The Lake Erie Waterkeeper organization will do just that on March 21 when it opens its annual forum for an in-depth look at the persistent threat posed by invasive species, the impact of agricultural practices and algae blooms on the lake, and examinations of fluctuating water levels and climate change, how crucial the lake is to tourism, and the status of fish populations in the lake.

Those are all part of the complex web of factors that play a role in determining Lake Erie’s health report card and in laying out strategies for the future.

“We are trying to get more of a macro look at the lake,” said Sandy Bihn, executive director of the Lake Erie Waterkeeper organization, about the lineup of experts that will take the podium at the group’s annual conference next week.

Blade Outdoors
12 Mar 2013
M Markey


Friday, March 15, 2013

Invasive species may be key to understanding death of hundreds of loons

Three dead loons were among the hundreds found by Damon McCormick,
a wildlife biologist with Common Coast Research and Conservation
in Houghton, Mich., who surveyed a seven-mile stretch of beach last October
near the eastern Upper Peninsula town of Gulliver.
(Photo courtesy of Damon McCormick, Common Coast Research and Conservation)
Spring is in the air, with daylight savings taking effect on Sunday, and loons will begin their migration back to the north woods in less than a month.

Loons, of course, are a cultural and natural icon, not only in Minnesota but across the Great Lakes states. But last fall, nearly 900 loons died while migrating south across Lake Michigan, probably more. And it's likely at least some were from Minnesota.

Scientists are not sure what killed the loons, but they suspect that invasive species may be to blame.

In October, Lynette Grimes was hiking toward Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, outside Traverse City, Mich. The 52-year-old from the nearby town of Benzonia has walked the beaches there for years. But she wasn't prepared for what she saw.

"The beach was just pockmarked with birds everywhere you looked," Grimes said. "This one little peninsula had over 100 dead birds."

... The scientists offered an idea about what might have happened: Invasive zebra and quagga mussels filter the water so it's incredibly clear, allowing an algae called cladophora to grow in huge amounts. Big storms churn up the algae, which settles to the lake bottom and rots. That creates an environment without any oxygen, an ideal home for bacteria that produces a deadly toxin called Type E botulism. That botulism is ingested by invertebrates, tiny worms and freshwater shrimp. And then it works its way up the food chain. They are eaten by fish, including the invasive round goby, which are then eaten by diving birds like loons.

Minnesota Public Radio -
11 Mar 2013
D Kraker
Location: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan, USA