National Parks, Species Studies, and Solar Energy: this week in environmental news

national park

A view of the beach below a dune from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo: carfull

Great Lakes national parks prepare for centennial (Great Lakes Echo): The Great Lakes region units of the National Park Service are celebrating its centennial this year, after its creation in 1916. The national parks are publicly owned treasures of environmental and natural resources, historic and cultural wealth, recreation and national identity.

More harm than help? Antibacterial hand soaps threaten fish (Great Lakes Echo): The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that many consumer products, including antibacterial soaps, contain triclosan. That’s a chemical added to prevent and reduce bacterial contamination. Although it has not been found hazardous to people, scientific studies found that it alters hormones in animals. This may cause a population of fish to have a much smaller number of reproducing adults and that would lead to a much smaller population of fish in general. A lot of other animals, including humans, eat fish, but with a smaller population of fish, fewer fish will be available to eat.

Binational efforts target bird-bashing buildings (Great Lakes Echo): According to a recent report by the University of Toronto, somewhere between 365 million and 988 million birds die annually from window collisions in the U.S. and Canada. A member of Congress from Illinois has proposed a bill to bird proof the windows of federal buildings. Bird-safe glass has an ultraviolet pattern within the glass that is invisible to the human eye, but gives birds a heads up.

In Japan, work kicks off on the world’s largest floating solar farm (Mother Nature Network): Japan, a nation that’s big on solar but short on space, is constructing the world’s largest floating solar farm. The solar power plant will be located at the Yamakura Dam reservoir in Chiba Prefecture, outside of Tokyo. The facility will produce enough juice to power about 5,000 homes while offsetting 8,170 cubic tons of CO2 emissions annually – a figure that’s equivalent to the consumption of 19,000 barrels of oil.


Kyocera has done floating solar installations before. But this one, a 13.7 MW facility due to go online in 2018, will be by far the largest. Photo: Kyocera


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.


Sparing mute swans, bear cub decline and ‘fishy’ behavior: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

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:


A mute swan glides atop the water. Photo by Karen Stamper, courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

A mute swan glides atop the water. Photo by Karen Stamper, courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Local policy revision spares non-aggressive mute swans (Great Lakes Echo): The invasive mute swan species growth in Michigan has been exponential, increasing by 10 percent each year since 2010. Currently there is legislation in place in west Michigan, authorizing the elimination of these creatures. After a recent survey found that people would prefer only the aggressive swans be killed, the Hutchins Lake Association is trying to negotiate a new plan.

Researchers look to spin grass into beef (Great Lakes Echo): The demand for grass-fed cattle is rising in Michigan. With a $460,000 federal grant, researchers from Michigan State University will explore the economic profitability of these cattle as well as environmental friendliness and encouraging consumers to eat frozen meat.

Changing fishery discard practices has cascading effect on ecosystems (Conservation Magazine): Unwanted fish are thrown over the side of sea vessels and fisheries experience up to 40 percent of discard on their trips. Fishing has cascading effects on wildlife, researchers found, because of the removal of some fish many species feed on. Research shows the resolution to this issue is “complicated.”


A polar bear with her two cubs. Photo by Frank Lucassec, courtesy of The Guardian.

A polar bear with her two cubs. Photo by Frank Lukasseck, courtesy of The Guardian.

Fewer polar bear cubs are being born in the Arctic islands, survey finds (The Guardian): Bear cub births in the Arctic islands of Svalbard decreased by 10 percent in 2014 alone, according to a small survey. Global warming continues to melt sea ice on which polar bears use to hunt seals. Of 29 female bears researchers tracked, only three gave birth to cubs that year, much less than the usual one-third of female bears to give birth.

Large muskies lured by the moon: study ties lunar cycle, fish behavior to angler success (Science Daily): In a recent study, a possible link between lunar activity and feeding time have encouraged fish to take the bait. Scientists analyzed the muskellunge in North America and found a correlation between lunar activity and the number of fish caught at fisheries.


Asian Carp Invasion

by Hannah Ettema
MNA Intern
asian carp fish

Asian Carp

One of the biggest threats to the Great Lakes is a 100-pound fish.

Swimming up the Mississippi River, Asian carp have the potential to destroy the Great Lakes ecosystems if they are not stopped.

Earlier this month it was announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be spending an estimated $25 million dollars to study and prevent the Asian carp from coming any closer to the Great Lakes than they already are.

Blocking the Way
Currently an electrical barrier is in place at an entry point to the Chicago Area waterways to prevent the Asian carp from continuing into Lake Michigan.

chicago water map

Chicago Area waterways map showing location of carp barrier (Illustration courtesy of Phil Moy, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute)

Underwater electrodes create a barrier so that as a fish swims towards it, they have an uncomfortable feeling and swim back the other way.

The electrical barrier is the best large-scale method for prevention, but like any machine, it has the potential of temporary malfunctions. Scientists agree that other measures in addition to the barrier will need to be taken.

Disruptive Species
Asian carp are ravenous eaters. They eat plankton, stealing the main food source for fish. Asian carp share the diet of native fish, which now have to compete for food. Averaging 30-40 pounds, Asian carp can grow up to 100-150 pounds and can eat 5-20 percent of its body weight each day.

In the Mississippi River system, Asian carp are already problematic and showing signs of destruction.

In addition to disrupting the food web in rivers, Asian carp are cutting into the fishing industry. The commercial value of Asian carp is much lower than the native species they are replacing.

You wouldn’t think a fish could physically harm people, but Asian carp do. Because they are easily skittish, Asian carp will jump out of the water, potentially ten feet, when they hear a boat motor.

asian carp jumping

Asian carp jumping at the sound of a boat motor.

Having a 20 pound fish fly at you is not anyone’s idea of fun. One woman in Peoria suffered a broken nose and arm when on Asian carp hit her.

In their native China, Asian carp have predators which can keep them in check. In the Mississippi River and Great Lakes, there are no predators to challenge an adult Asian Carp.

More than the Great Lakes
Asian carp are not naturally big water fish. However they will still find home in the Great Lakes basin in the streams, vegetated shorelines and wide bays around Michigan. They will most likely stick to the coast for feeding and eventually inland to rivers in order to spawn.

MNA has more than fifteen sanctuaries on the west side of the state that could potentially be at risk in the near future. If the Asian carp were to penetrate the entire Great Lakes system, any and all sanctuaries that have a water system could have damage from the carp.

Getting Closer
Originally imported in the 1970s by catfish farmers, Asian Carp overflowed out of their ponds in the 1990s due to flooding and were accidently released into the Mississippi River. Since then, they have steadily progressed north.

Using a new method of detection, eDNA or environmental DNA, scientists have been able to detect Asian carp in the Chicago Area waterways, coming dangerously close to Lake Michigan.

eDNA, developed at the University of Notre Dame, is a method of detecting DNA from a water sample. Species, like Asian carp, release genetic material into the environment through slime, feces and urine—all of which can be detected in the water if caught soon enough.

For information on what to do if you find an Asian carp, click here.