Great Lakes, Robot Cleanup, and Cormorants: this week in environmental news

Water levels and surface temperatures up for Lakes Michigan/Huron in 2016 (MSU Extension): Visitors to the beaches and boat launch ramps will notice both higher lake levels and earlier seasonal warming of the Great Lakes than in the past several years. The NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory shows that Lakes Michigan and Huron are the highest they have been since August 1998. What about the water temperatures? Again, they are well ahead of 2015 and well ahead of long-term average of Lake Michigan.

cleaning shoreline robot

Robot collecting a tennis ball. Image: Robot Missions

Robot is on a mission to clean up Great Lakes shorelines (Great Lakes Echo): A robot designed by a maker in Toronto could soon be clearing up trash strewn across shorelines everywhere. The next step involves many more field tests throughout the summer and small revisions to the robot’s design. After those tests are complete, the robot will be deployed in August on Toronto Island in Lake Ontario to clean up the shoreline. There’s a lot of interest in the project because it combines robotics with environmentalism, creating a robot with a social impact.

The dirty eight: Great Lakes pollutants targeted by U.S. and Canada (Great Lakes Echo): Canada and the U.S. recently announced they will develop and coordinate strategies to reduce exposure to eight contaminants they have designated as Chemicals of Mutual Concern in the Great Lakes. The designation made under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement also requires the countries to develop where needed the water quality standards for the pollutants.


Cormorants at an East Chicago colony. Image: Patrick Madura

Can cormorants help control Great Lakes invaders? (Great Lakes Echo): Cormorants’ fish-stealing rep may be a bum rap – and the truth is more complex, as the first dietary study of cormorants in southern Lake Michigan shows. Researchers found the cormorants are chowing down on invasive species – mainly alewife, round goby and white perch – which together accounted for 80-90% of their diet. No studies to date have demonstrated that cormorants have a consistently negative effect on fisheries over broad geographic regions.


Protecting the Cormorants

By Allie Jarrell

Photo: Hans Stieglitz - Wikimedia Commons

In the 1970s, the use of the pesticide DDT threatened the existence of the double-crested cormorant, a seabird common to the Great Lakes region, resulting in the cormorant being placed on the endangered and threatened animal species list. The species has recovered, but since the resurgence of the population, cormorants have been blamed for the decline of certain fish species in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Over the past decade, MNA has been involved in cormorant issues due to our four sanctuaries that contain six islands in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. These island properties are home to a variety of nesting birds, including pelicans, egrets and cormorants. It is MNA’s opinion that the current justification for federal cormorant control programs is not based on science, but rather by generalization and insufficient information and perceptions.

The combination of non-native fish species, ongoing pollution and the degradation of near shore habitats have negatively impacted native fishes and their spawning habitat. MNA believes these factors are likely results of the decline of the Great Lakes fisheries.

Photo: Marcus Saperaud - Wikimedia Commons

Consequently, MNA does not support efforts to oil eggs, shoot or otherwise kill cormorants for population control.  If cormorant control be must undertaken, it should be justified with scientific research and monitoring programs demonstrating a direct measurable ecological data showing the need for such programs.

MNA is committed to supporting the natural communities and ecosystems of Michigan, and believes that all native species have a niche to fill in the Great Lakes ecosystem. The removal of native species from an ecosystem aids the breakdown of the rest of the system.

Check out the DNR’s website for more background information on cormorant management issues in the Great Lakes region.