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.

Native Prairies, Mini-Tsunamis, and Sand Dunes: this week in environmental news

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Volunteers collect native seeds that will be used to increase prairies. Image: Heidi Frei

Native prairie restoration fights invasive species and helps the endangered ones (Great Lakes Echo): From flower pots to 100-acre lots, planting native prairie plants is increasingly important as they face threats from invasive species and human development. Prairies in the Great Lakes region are known for hosting bobolinks, wild turkeys, butterflies and a vast array of wildflowers. A program was created to collect seeds from native plants to promote prairie growth and engage volunteers with the environment. It’s something that everyone can help with.

Researchers creating warning system for low oxygen water (Great Lakes Echo): Researchers are developing a system to warn water managers when unpalatable, harmful water from Lake Erie is headed their way. The project, with $1.5 million in federal funding, could give water treatment plant operators time to prepare to treat water that is hypoxic by predicting the movement of oxygen-depleted Lake Erie water. Hypoxia occurs when dissolved oxygen in a body of water is depleted to a level that is harmful to aquatic organisms. This is a particular problem in the central basin of Lake Erie, where it’s deeper.

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Large waves on Lake Superior. Image: Greg Kretovic, Flickr

Mini-tsunamis a hazard in the Great Lakes (Great Lakes Echo): The Great Lakes have their own miniature version of tsunamis – more than 100 times per year. That’s according to new research led by the University of Wisconsin Madison. The name of these waves – and the danger that comes with them – are relatively unknown to those in the region. Their name, meteotsunami, is a contraction – broken down, it means meteorological tsunami. They’re about a foot high. And they’re not caused by earthquakes like actual tsunamis. Researchers are now looking into a way to predict when these mini-tsunamis might occur in order to warn beachgoers. According to the study, Lake Michigan is most prone to these mini-tsunamis, followed by Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

Michigan Dune Alliance helps protect Michigan’s iconic sand dunes from invasive species (Model D): From the towering glory of Sleeping Bear Dunes to more modest southern Lake Michigan beaches, perhaps nothing in our state represents “Pure Michigan” better than our iconic sand dunes. But as with so many of Michigan’s fragile native ecosystems, invasive weeds threaten to strangle the dunes. Exotic fungi and invasive bugs are killing the trees that are part of the dune ecosystem, while invasive water plants are choking coastal marshes and interdunal wetlands. There are around 550 miles of coastline on the Mitten’s west that are under siege from alien invaders. Luckily, the combined forces of the Michigan Dune Alliance are on a search-and-destroy mission throughout that long stretch of sand.

Lake Erie, Birds, and Earthworms: this week in environmental news

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Lake Erie algal bloom in 2015. Image: NASA

Michigan declares Lake Erie impaired (Great Lakes Echo): Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder designated that state’s portion of Lake Erie as impaired on November 10. Lake Erie has been threatened by toxic algae blooms for several years, threatening drinking water quality in Toledo and limiting recreational uses. Within the past year, the governors of Michigan and Ohio and the premier of Ontario signed a memorandum of understanding acknowledging the threat of toxic algae. They set a goal to reduce phosphorous loading up to 40 percent by 2025.

Toxins kill thousands of birds along Lake Michigan shore (Great Lakes Echo): Since 2006, dead birds have been washing up on Lake Michigan beaches. But this fall has been exceptionally grim, with up to five thousand birds being found dead along the shore. Researchers say the birds are dying because of a toxin called avian botulism, which can form on the lake bed under certain conditions. Botulism forms when there’s a lack of oxygen in the water. Even as botulism begins to form, it’s down near toxic valleys that many small fish continue to eat, consuming the poison as they feed. Local and migratory birds that land on Lake Michigan, tired and famished from their journey, consume small fish like the invasive Round Goby. Having eaten the infected fish, the birds become sick and die out on the lake due to paralyzing effects.

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Restoration projects have made it possible for safe water recreational use in the Sarnia region of the St. Clair River. Image: Megan McDonnell

U.S., Canada battle St. Clair River’s polluted legacy (Great Lakes Echo): The St. Clair River that connects Lake Huron with Lake St. Clair has a long history of environmental problems. They are challen­­­­­­­­­­ges as diverse as E. coli bacteria that shut down beaches, industrial pollution by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury contamination so severe that residents are advised to limit their consumption of locally caught fish. In recent years cleanup and sediment remediation projects have vastly improved the river and it is beginning to flourish once again. There have been more than 280 fish and aquatic wildlife habitat restoration projects on the St. Clair River, 12 of which were shoreline restoration projects.

Sea lamprey, Asian carp, zebra mussels and earthworms? (Great Lakes Echo): The wriggly soil-dwellers may not have the bad rep of some of their invasive counterparts, but they do have the power to change entire ecosystems. Now a recent study has found that an abundance of earthworms causes a decrease in the small plant matter scattered on the forest floor. By eating away at what scientists call “fine root biomass” worms can significantly change the forest. Worms start a bottom-up chain reaction that can bring about fundamental environmental changes. They affect what plants are able to root and grow in the soil. The kinds of plants that grow affect which species of animals can live in a forest.

Detroit River project, helping hunters, and yellow perch: this week in environmental news

New dock and fishing pier at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Gateway. Photo: Hamilton Anderson Associates

New dock and fishing pier at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Gateway. Photo: Hamilton Anderson Associates

Huge fishing pier, outdoor center set for Detroit River (Detroit Free Press): The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge will see many changes, including a $2.85-million structure stretching 775 feet across the Detroit River, with a fishing pier to accommodate 100 people and a floating dock for the Michigan Sea Grant educational program boat. Seating, shade structures, and interpretive signs will also be included. The Downriver facility improvements will not only boost the number of visitors, but also help change the perception of the Detroit area. The
refuge has allowed nature to move back
into the area, and people can see that up close.

2015 Lake Erie algae bloom largest on record (Detroit Free Press): Scientists say an algae bloom that spread across Lake Erie this past summer was the largest on record and produced a thick scum about the size of New York City. The bloom stayed toward the center of the lake between Canada and Ohio and away from the shoreline. That lessened the impact on boaters and plants that handle drinking water.

Michigan hunters help feed the hungry (Outdoorhub): Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger (MSAH) is a volunteer-based program that aims to get excess game meat onto the plates of the less fortunate. Food banks love the program, often contacting the DNR to ask about participating. One of the requirements is that venison has to go through a license processor. Another element to the program is that it promotes hunting and hunters need to know that nothing goes to waste.

Study author Troy Farmer with yellow perch inside environmental-control chambers. Image: The Ohio State University

Study author Troy Farmer with yellow perch inside environmental-control chambers. Image: The Ohio State University

Climate change threatens perch, other warm-water fish (Great Lakes Echo): A recent study looked at how shorter and warmer winters impact yellow perch, but it also could have implications for other early spring spawning fish. The study shows that if fish can’t adapt to the changing climate, they die. A drop in the fish population could have far reaching consequences in the Great Lakes. According to the Michigan chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the Great Lakes fisheries are worth $7 billion annually to our regional economy. The loss of the yellow perch
population could harm the health of the entire food web.