Lake Erie Waves, Great Lakes Forests, and Mudpuppies: this week in environmental news

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Turbulent waves in Lake Erie. Photo: Dave Sandford.

This Is What A Great Lake Looks Like After All The Vacationers Are Gone (Buzzfeed): Photographer Dave Sanford spent time on Lake Erie shooting the Great Lake’s turbulent fall season. From mid-October to mid-November, the longtime professional sports photographer traveled each week to Port Stanley, Ontario, on the edge of Lake Erie to spend hours taking photos. His goal was to capture the exact moment when lake waves driven by gusting winds collide with a rebound wave that’s created when the water hits a pier and collection of boulders on the shore. People are blown away that these are from a lake, and not an ocean due to the size and force.

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Crayfish in Burt Lake are thought to be on the decline. Image: Greg Schechter, Flickr.

Pharmaceutical pollution takes toll on crayfish and other species (Great Lakes Echo): Drugs seeping into groundwater threaten crayfish and have a domino effect of environmental impacts that harm fish and other species, according to new research. Pharmaceutical pollution happens when medicines are improperly disposed or flushed into septic tanks and sewers as the body eliminates them. Treatment can’t filter them so they make their way into lakes and streams. Crayfish are a keystone species, one that many others species depend upon. If they died, so would trout and bass. That would lead to algae overgrowth and in turn, insects and invertebrates would die when decaying algae used up all the oxygen. At this point there are not solutions for removing pharmaceuticals once they are in lakes and streams, so this is a prevention issue. We need to keep it out of the waterways, improving septic and sewer systems to filter pharmaceutical pollution is a critical need.

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Red pine forest in West Michigan. Image: Marie Orttenburger.

Researchers look to brace Great Lakes forests for climate change (Great Lakes Echo): Great Lakes forests will get warmer and suffer more frequent short-term droughts, scientists say. The stakes are high. Forests are staple ecosystems in the region. Many wildlife and plant species depend on forest stability. Plus, forests are a part of the regional culture. The approaches to climate change adaptation for trees are as diverse as the tree species.

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Underwater shot of a mudpuppy at Wolf Lake. Image: Alicia Beattie.

Secretive amphibian can provide pollution clues (Great Lakes Echo): The mudpuppy is a fully-aquatic salamander thought to be on the decline–though the extent of that decline is unknown. The foot-long amphibians are classified a “threatened species” in the state of Illinois and considered a concern throughout the Great Lakes region. Destruction and degradation of habitat, along with invasive species, are spelling doom for mudpuppies. Mudpuppies are also very sensitive to pollution. That characteristic could make them especially important to researchers. Population statistics and tissue samples could clue scientists in on the effects pollution and habitat degradation are having on those environments.

Invasive Species Workshop, Salamanders, and Wildlife Grants: this week in environmental news

Invasive Species and Site Preparation Workshop (Michigan Society of American Foresters): Attend a free hands-on invasive species workshop in Wellston, Michigan on Saturday, May 21 hosted by the Michigan Society of American Foresters. During this workshop you will learn all about the ecological and economic effects of invasive species, how and why they spread, control options, pesticide laws, and site preparation methods for planting tree seedlings and how this is relevant to invasive species management.  There will be a large hands-on component where you will observe and use different types of equipment, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), the gas-powered forestry clearing saw for killing invasive shrubs and small trees, and herbicide equipment for mixing and applying chemical.

Wildlife grants awarded to tribes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota (Great Lakes Echo): Native American tribes will protect bats from logging and place sturgeon in school aquariums as part of a recent round of federal grants. The Tribal Wildlife grant program was established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003. This year, $5 million was awarded to 29 tribes, three from Great Lakes states. In Michigan, the Saginaw Chippewa tribe is receiving $199,431 to determine what plants and wildlife live in the area and how to protect important species.

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Eastern red spotted newts like this one are at risk of fungal disease. Photo: Distant Hill Gardens, Flickr

A deadly fungus threatens salamanders (Great Lakes Echo): A deadly fungus is likely to threaten the health of salamanders in the United States. And one type of salamander found in the Great Lakes region – the eastern newt – is especially at risk. Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans – Bsal for short – is a fungus that eats away the skin of certain salamanders. It’s found in parts of Asia and Europe, and researchers say it could strike the United States next. Eastern newts in the region have an increased risk because Chicago is a port where diseased salamanders could be brought in.

inland fisheries

Inland fisheries are important indicators of changes in ecosystems from things such as hydropower projects and deforestation. Photo: Ken Bosma

Inland fisheries’ importance underrated, study says (Great Lakes Echo): Inland fisheries and aquaculture account for more than 40 percent of the world’s reported fish production but their harvest is frequently under-reported and ignored in the Great Lakes region and elsewhere, a new study says. The central role of inland fish in aquatic ecosystems makes them good indicators of ecosystem change. Ecosystem change includes threats from agriculture, hydropower projects and deforestation, as well as overfishing and invasive species. Although the study focused primarily on inland fisheries in the developing world, it also addressed the situation in the Great Lakes and the region’s inland waters. The study cited massive die-offs of alewives in Lake Michigan in the 1960s, an occurrence that brought to public and political attention large ecological changes occurring in the Great Lakes.

Frogs and toads: environmentally beneficial creatures

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

The warm Michigan weather brings about many different types of plants an animals, including amphibians like frogs and toads.

Often after a rain or in a wet, shaded area these critters can be found hopping around.

What’s the difference?

It might be surprising that all toads are considered frogs. Frogs and toads are both amphibians but it’s easy to tell the difference between them by a few key factors. The frog has more smooth, moist skin and longer legs. Toads are more bumpy and warty-looking. Frogs prefer to be around water and moist places whereas toads don’t require wet areas as much and can withstand drier habitats. Toads prefer to crawl rather than to hop from place to place.

Amphibians are defined by a life-cycle that begins underwater. Baby frogs and toads start off as eggs in the water and develop into tadpoles that have gills and can swim. These tadpoles develop lungs and other body parts and, once they have matured, can enjoy life on land.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

Toads and frogs breed during the spring and summer and find warm shelter to protect themselves during harsh winter months.

Where do they live?

Frogs and toads live in many places around the world including the rain forest. In Michigan they tend to live in wetlands, wooded areas, beaches and near streams or lakes.

What do they do?

Frogs consume thousands of bugs. This consumption is beneficial for people and the environment, protecting plants, getting rid of pests and maintaining a balance in the food chain and ecosystem. Frogs are also great indicators of changes in the environment as they are sensitive to even the slightest of changes. Their skin is thin and porous so any chemicals or other contaminants to the environment can be shown by a decrease of frogs in more frog-populated areas. Frogs also have provided scientists with compounds for different medicines.

A fowler's toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

A fowler’s toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

Threats to frogs and toads

Unfortunately there are many threats to frogs and toads throughout the world. Many of these are human-induced problems such as the use of harmful pesticides, habitat loss and pollution to name a few. These actions endanger frogs and toads and can be harmful for the environment which is why protecting them is important.

To learn more about frogs and toads click here. To learn about types of frogs and toads found in Michigan click here.

Lake Erie’s algal blooms: a cause for concern

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A view of algae-infested Lake Erie. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

A view of algae-infested Lake Erie. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

In a story from the Great Lakes Echo, Lake Erie has yet again produced record-high algae blooms. In 2011, the amount was the worst ever recorded with 2013 coming in close.

Lake Erie has been used as a source of water for farming and drinking and the increasing toxicity poses harm to the environment.

According to Discovery News, algae blooms are a natural part in the life of an aging lake, but have been greatly increased due to human activity.

An explanation of algae

Rick Stumpf, oceanographer from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration examines a water sample from Lake Erie. Photo by Karen Schaefer  courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Rick Stumpf, oceanographer from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration examines a water sample from Lake Erie. Photo by Karen Schaefer courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Algae are common members of aquatic communities. Often in the form of green plants like seaweed, these plants grow and are green because they contain chlorophyll. Algae usually doesn’t pose problems in bodies of water, but algae blooms are of greater concern. These green-blue scum masses are full of harmful cyanobacteria, containing threatening cyanotoxins.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines cyanotoxins as “a diverse group of chemical substances that are categorized by their specific toxic effects. In humans, cyanotoxins can affect the nervous system, gastrointestinal system, liver and increase tumor growth.

Click here to read the fact sheet which includes symptoms of cyanotoxin consumption and contact and treatment.

The toxic dangers in Lake Erie

The problem facing Lake Erie is not only that it’s turning a pernicious green color, it’s under silent attack by toxins in water runoff making their way into the lake. Fertilizer from agricultural practices in recent years has contributed to this issue. Climate change may also be contributing to the issues surrounding Lake Erie, causing more storms, higher water temperatures and less control of fertilizer runoff.

A boat speeds through algae blooms in Lake Erie, 2011. Photo by Peter Essick, National Geographic.

A boat speeds through algae blooms in Lake Erie, 2011. Photo by Peter Essick, National Geographic.

Nutrients in the fertilizer runoff have contributed greatly to the growth of cyanobacteria, fertilizing the toxin rather than the intended on-land crops. Not only is this bacteria harmful for humans to consume in drinking water, it creates “dead zones” in different areas of lakes. A dead zone happens when the bacteria consumes most of the oxygen in a particular area of a lake, so that other organisms are deprived of that oxygen and die.

A plan of action 

In Michigan, scientists hope to continue monitoring the water, although the high amount of algae blooms has been a great cause of stress and concern. Recently, President Obama reauthorized a federal law which allocates $82 million for studying and monitoring algae blooms. This time, the Great Lakes were included.

 

Wildfires, hound hunting and snake encounters: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Fire blazes in Marquette County. Photo via Michigan Department of Natural Resources courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Fire blazes in Marquette County. Photo via Michigan Department of Natural Resources courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Above average number of wildfires predicted by summer’s end (Great Lakes Echo): Despite Michigan’s decline in wildfires down to 86 so far in 2014 from a record high of 315 in 2012. according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the latter half of the year may prove to have higher than average numbers of wildfires.

Hunting hounds attack a wounded coyote. Photo courtesy of MLive.

Hunting hounds attack a wounded coyote. Photo courtesy of MLive.

Video in coyote killing raises questions about ethics and the future of wolf hunting in Michigan (MLive): After the discovery of a brutal video of hound dogs attacking a wounded coyote in Gogebic County, policies on how hound dogs can be used during hunting come into question. Although using these hunting dogs are not allowed when pursuing wolves, they are still allowed for other animals, leaving them vulnerable to hunting hound attacks. Legislators are reviewing the film as evidence in a case to determine the legality of hound use in the particular situation.

John Kerry launches global effort to save world’s oceans ‘under siege’ (The Guardian): On Wednesday, John Kerry launched his new global effort to protect oceans from over-fishing and plastic pollution and climate change. Kerry plans to discuss the topic at the State Department two-day summit June 16 and 17. The State Department said Kerry’s conference will help global awareness of issues surrounding the earth’s oceans.

Road salt changes urban ecosystems in big ways (Conservation Magazine): During the winter, tons of salt is dumped along roads throughout the Midwest. Despite the usefulness of salt on icy roads to make it easier and safer for drivers, it ends up running off into soils on the side of the road and changing their chemical composition. The salt can also find its way to bodies of water, plants and animals, changing the way the ecosystem evolves.

DNR offers tips for residents encountering snakes (Michigan Department of Natural Resources): The DNR has released information to help residents who may encounter snakes this summer. Michigan has 17 species of snakes, 16 of which are completely harmless to humans. To avoid snake bites, the DNR suggests getting no closer than within 24 inches of a snake’s head. Residents are also asked to report any reptile or amphibian sightings to the Michigan Herp Atlas research project.