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Entries in Great Lakes (108)

Thursday
Apr032014

Great Lakes Ice Good for Water Levels, Fisheries, But Could Mean Loss of Wetlands

NOAA photo collage

By mid February, ice coverage of the Great Lakes was at 87.3 percent, as scientists predicted that it would reach record proportions--- more than 94.7 percent--- before the spring thaw.

That can be bad for commercial navigation. But in general, the ice is good for the lakes and their fisheries.

“When you have more ice formation, you have less direct contact with the atmosphere, less opportunity for evaporation and that keeps the water levels up, said Alan Steinman of the Annis Water Resources Institute.

For years now, the lakes have suffered from low water, with Lake Michigan falling to record lows just last year. More water retained will mean more shoreline habitat later.

Yet that also could mean the loss of wetlands gained during the low-water years. From 2004 to 2009, wetlands increased by 13,610 acres in the eight-state Great Lakes region, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That was the only portion of the country to show an increase, as the rest of the nation’s coastal wetlands shrank by 360,720 acres.

Before ice coverage started reaching record proportions, Donald Uzarski of the Institute of Great Lakes Research explained how the increase occurred.

“As the shoreline moves away from the upland, the wetland essentially follows it,” he said.

“Usually, the amount of wetlands stays the same over the years as water levels rise and fall because wetlands move where the shoreline is. But we’re seeing low levels that have rarely happened in the past.”

Going into spring, water levels likely will be higher than they would have been following a mild winter, thanks to that ice coverage. It increased from 77 to 87.3 percent during the second week of February and was forecast to reach the highest percentage since records started being kept in 1973. Coverage of 94.7 percent was recorded on Feb. 19, 1979.

By Feb. 12, Lake Superior, the most northern of the lakes, was at 95.3 percent coverage. It last was 100 percent ice covered in 1996.

Climate for Lake Erie is a bit milder, but the lake also is shallow compared to its counterparts, meaning it is more likely to freeze in winter. It was at 95.9 percent, on its way to the full coverage that also occurred in 1973, 1978, 1979, and 1996.

By contrast, coverage of Lake Ontario was just 32 percent. One reason for that, scientists theorize, is that the lake doesn’t freeze as easily as the rest because it has a greater capacity for “heat storage.” In other words, it is deep, like Superior, but has far less surface area, where the heat is lost. Also, moving water from Niagara Falls helps keep ice from forming.

Tuesday
Apr012014

Invasive Species Top List of Tourism Concerns in Michigan

Invasives species, including Asian carp, rank at the top of concerns by Michigan tourism professionals.

Tourism industry professionals in Michigan were asked to “identify key issues facing and threats to the integrity of Michigan’s tourism resources.” Since Michigan is a Great Lakes state, the results are not surprising: Invasive species rank as the top threat.

The tourism folks know what they’re talking about, not only for Michigan, but for much of the rest of the country as well.

As a matter of fact, I think that they correctly have identified the top four for many of the states, and they have appropriately placed climate change and increasing the number of wind farms where they belong--- at or near the bottom.

Sadly, a good number of them have bought into the environmental left’s hatred of fracking, when no evidence supports the notion that it poses a threat to our lands and waters. In fact the former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, said unequivocally that her agency has found no evidence of contamination.

  • Spread of invasive species (aquatic & terrestrial) – 65.2 percent
  • Lack of/limited funding for resource protection/maintenance – 59.5 percent
  • Declining water quality of our lakes, rivers and streams – 42.7 percent
  • Declining water levels of our lakes, rivers and streams – 41.3 percent
  • Diversion of water from the Great Lakes – 39.3 percent
  • Reduction in historic preservation tax credits – 28.9 percent
  • Closure of Department of History, Arts and Libraries – 25.1 percent
  • Fracking – 24.5 percent
  • Need for better/faster adoption of technology at tourism sites – 20.8 percent
  • Under-appreciation of Native American history and culture – 20.0 percent
  • Climate change – 16.8 percent
  • Spread of infectious diseases – 8.5 percent
  • Increasing number of wind farms – 7.7 percent
Friday
Mar282014

Mapping the Invasion

This screen shot shows zebra and quagga mussel invasion as of 2006.

Nature Conservancy has produced some great interactive maps showing how invasive aquatic species have spread out across the country from their point of introduction.

Featured species include bighead and silver carp, zebra and quagga mussels, Eurasian ruffe, round goby, sea lamprey, and black carp.

Also, in late 2012, the organization released a report saying that aquatic invasive species “cost businesses and consumer in the Great Lakes region hundreds of millions of dollars annually in direct costs and even more from indirect costs related to removal, maintenance, and management of those species.

“Meanwhile, state and federal governments are currently forced to spend additional millions as they attempt to control the impacts and prevent the spread of AIS (aquatic invasive species).”

According to the report, the largest industry affected by AIS in the Great Lakes is tourism and recreation, which is responsible for employing more than 90,000 people in the region, generating $30.3 billion annually in revenue. Costs range from monitoring and controlling AIS to lost revenue from beach closings affecting hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses.

Wednesday
Mar262014

Third Carp Species Also Threatens Great Lakes

Activist Angler caught this 30-pound-plus grass carp in a lake that has been damaged by illegal stocking of this exotic species. Photo by Robert Montgomery.

When people talk about Asian carp threatening the Great Lakes and its fisheries, they typically are referring to bighead and silver.

But a third species also potentially could damage this vast freshwater ecosystem if it becomes established in substantial numbers.

The grass carp was introduced into U.S. waters about 50 years ago, with the intent of using it to manage invasive aquatic vegetation. It has done its job--- and then some. Too often it has obliterated all vegetation in a water body, including beneficial native plants.

Additionally, it has escaped and established wild populations, as did the bighead and silver. Today the grass carp is believed to be in at least 45 states.

And now this invader poses danger for the Great Lakes.

Researchers recently documented that grass carp have spawned in the Great Lakes, specifically in Ohio’s Sandusky River, a tributary of Lake Erie. They also point out that 45 of them were caught in the Great Lakes between 2007-2012. That’s not a lot, but it’s 45 too many, especially since about half of those were capable of reproducing, meaning that an established population might already exist.

That does not bode well for bass, pike, and other inshore species that thrive in and around aquatic vegetation.

Read more here.

By the way, I have personal experience with grass carp. Years ago, ignorant property owners illegally stocked grass carp in the little lake behind my house because, they said, “they filter the water and improve the water quality.”  They did so, even though the lake contained little, if any, aquatic vegetation.

Somehow, the carp have survived and today some of them weigh 30 pounds or more. They’re the equivalent of big aquatic cows, degrading water quality, not improving it, as their wastes feed alga blooms during summer.

Also, hundreds of pounds of carp prevent growth of hundreds of pounds of bass, bluegill, and catfish. Like a farm field, a lake can sustain just so much biomass. 

Friday
Mar212014

Stop Blaming the 'Villagers'

Today’s biology lesson is about the life cycle of zebra mussels. As an added bonus, I’m going to provide a little instruction in the lost art of journalism.

First, read this excerpt from an article about the exotic shellfish on the KAAL website in Minnesota:

 * * *

"Say you've pumped in 100 gallons of water off Lake Minnetonka and it comes in now and then pumps out, any villagers that happen to be in that tank can't get out either,” said Larry Meddock with the Water Sports Industry Association. The villagers are trapped. That's important because the filter reduces the risk of any hitchhikers being transported from one lake to another through ballast tanks on boats.

* * *

Now here’s the journalism lesson: Know what you’re talking about.

And here’s a clue to the biology lesson: “Villagers” don’t live in water; they live in a village. And they are people, not zebra mussels.

What, then, are the “villagers” that the KAAL author is referring to? Had she bothered to do any research, she would have discovered that the correct term is “veligers.”

Here’s what you need to know about zebra mussels and what that article failed miserably to explain:

Veligers are the microscopic, free-swimming larvae of zebra and other mussels. They can drift in the water for several weeks, before settling onto hard surfaces to grow into hard-shell adults.

They likely were introduced to the Great Lakes as veligers in the ballast water of ocean-going ships. They also are being spread within the United States in ballast, as well as in bilges, livewells and any other water left in a boats as they leave infected waterways.

As adults, they can hitchhike by attaching to boat hulls, props, and trailers, surviving out of water for a week or so.

That’s why it’s so important that you clean, drain, and dry your boat after leaving any water infected with zebra or quagga mussels. And the failure of many to take these precautions is a major reason that these problematic shellfish have spread out from the Great Lakes, and, in recent years even crossed the Continental Divide.

Aside from outcompeting native species for oxygen, food, and habitat, they clog water and hydropower plants, costing the nation’s economy more than $1 billion a year in damages and associated control costs annually.

Stop the spread of “veligers,” and leave the “villagers” alone.