Month: August 2016

Kayakers View Thunder Bay Harbour Up Close

William Vanderwees, a participant in the RAP Tour of the Lower Kaministquia River moves out onto the glass calm waters of Lake Superior near Mission Island Marsh. The Welcome Islands and Sleeping Giant (partially obscured by fog) are in the background.
William Vanderwees, a participant in the August 28th RAP kayak tour of the Lower Kaministquia River, moves out onto the glass calm waters of Lake Superior near Mission Island Marsh. The Welcome Islands and Sleeping Giant (partially obscured by fog) are in the background. More photos…

Fourteen paddlers headed out on the waters of the lower Kaministiquia River and adjacent Lake Superior on August 28th for a tour of environmental actions and progress associated with the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan, or harbour cleanup plan. Paddlers also viewed many waterfront industries.

Participants learned that when Thunder Bay was designated as an area of environmental concern in the late eighties (along with 43 other locations around the Great Lakes), large-scale fish kills took place in the lower Kaministiquia River due to poor water quality. They also learned that this issue had been resolved through substantial investments to improve effluent quality by industries like Resolute Forest Products, resulting in vastly improved Kam River water quality.

Starting at the Mission Island Boat Launch kayakers headed downstream to the McKellar Embayments, a habitat rehabiliatation project near the McKellar mouth of the Kam at Lake Superior. From here, in stunning glass calm, kayakers headed onto the open waters of Lake Superior along the shoreline near Mission Island Marsh. After a stop to discuss the many valuable functions of wetlands, kayakers then headed into the Mission mouth of the Kam, viewing the Confined Disposal Facility for harbour dredged material in the distance (a potential site for contaminated sediment from the northern portion of Thunder Bay Harbour near the Current River). Paddlers also passed Cargill Grain elevator, Resolute Forest Products sawmill, MobilEx dry bulk handling facility and Suncor liquid bulk handling facility.

An overview of  habitat protection features built into the Kam River Heritage Park walking promenade was also provided. Kayakers then completed their circumnavigation of Mission Island, arriving back again at the Mission Island Boat Launch.

RAP Mapping Tool

Information about the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan is available in a mapping tool, complete with photos and information about key environmental restoration activities addressing water quality, sediment quality, habitat, and fish and wildlife health.


Fourteen years of Red Rock Folk Fest success

Live From the Rock: Red Rock Folk Festival can count another stellar year in the books as over 2250 attendees descended on the festival grounds this past weekend for a lineup of almost 40 acts. In its 14th annual event, the festival drew hundreds of campers to the shore of Lake Superior for main stage acts, workshop shows, and campfire singalong. The festival has a great reputation and continues to grow every year since its iteration.

According to TB Newswatch, over 2000 people showed up for music and festivities on Saturday alone. The crowd themselves reportedly kept the folk spirit going even after performers left the stage with campfire sing-alongs at night and impromptu jamming sessions before the gates opened on Sunday.

While well-loved acts like Jean Paul DeRoover, The Moonshiners, Rodney Brown, and Shy Anne Horvoka drew crowds to the stage, many people also watched all the acts perform workshop sessions, where several artists sit in for communal sessions on the same stage and jam together to create unique music never heard before, and not heard again.

Kathy Chappell of the Chronicle Journal noted that Steve Poltz was a particular force during the workshop sessions: “Poltz had the audience captivated with his unique and at times eccentric of entertaining bringing the crowd to their feet. Some of his antics throughout the day had musicians in a workshop performing on their backs.”

Poltz wasn’t the only artist with interactive techniques. The Journal also reported that Madeline Roger and Raine Hamilton engaged festival attendees to help them write a song that honoured the festival’s theme: Stoked for Folk. The resulting tune was performed during closing ceremonies alongside other longtime favourites and traditional closing songs.

Over 200 volunteers committed themselves to this year’s event, and the board of directors have planned next year’s festival for August 11-13th.

If you’re still seeking North Shore music festival vibes, take a trip over the border to Duluth this weekend for the Bayfront Blues Festival. This year’s major headliners are John Mayall, Southern Hospitality, and War. In addition to full-day lineups of great blues acts, the festival is offering late night dance parties so revellers can keep the party going. For information on schedules, ticket prices, and more, click here. 







UMD researchers searching for algae problems

According to WDIO (Duluth), UMD researchers have been collecting samples to determine the likelihood of algae growth in Lake Superior waters. The goal of the faculty/student team is to discover how much human action (agriculture, urban growth, industrial use) is driving potentially harmful nutrient levels in the lake.

In July, UMD senior Shannon McCallum and assistant professor Ted Ozersky took samples from the shores of Leif Erikson Park in Duluth, MN. The team dove with wetsuits to procure their experiment: a landscaping tile with rows of clear cups, all of which had been diffusing nitrogen or phosphorus, or both, into the lake for a period of four weeks. The samples will be taken back to the lab to be frozen, dried, and weighed.

Ozersky told WDIO that the goal was to let algae grow in the cups for a month. “We’re trying to see which of these nutrients will stimulate the growth of algae on the lake bottom.”

This process was repeated at nine different locations on Lake Superior’s northern and southern shores. They were placed close to agricultural, urban, and industrial sites so they could measure human impact from things like fertilizer, stormwater runoff, or sewage. Ozersky and McCallum will be studying a variety of data to determine what nutrients are most important to manage to prevent harmful algal blooms from forming.

While some algae growth is normal and healthy, imbalanced nutrient levels and water temperatures can lead to large-scale problems. Look no further than Lake Erie’s consistent problems with algal blooms to see the consequence: they’ve been indicated in large-scale marine wildlife deaths, shellfish poisonings, and increases the risk of non-alcoholic liver disease death.

The study is being funded by a UMD biology grant, and constitutes McCallum’s summer research project.

To see the original WDIO article, click here. 






MV Roger Blough repaired and running

According to the Duluth News Tribune, the motor vessel Roger Blough is back up and running in Lake Superior, and chugged into the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN and Superior, WI for a load of iron ore pellets. The Blough ran aground on May 27 just outside of Sault Ste Marie, near the Gros Cap Reefs. The U.S. Coast Guard was on hand to aid a rescue mission which involved offloading the Blough’s cargo onto two other lake freighters.

After almost two months of repairs in Sturgeon Bay, WI, the Blough left Bay Shipbuilding on August 6 and made its way to Duluth, arriving August 8. It picked up its cargo at the CN docks yesterday and departed last night. According to Marine Traffic, it’s headed east and bearing down on the Soo Locks, close to the site of its grounding.

Investigations are still being conducted on the cause of the grounding, both external (U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board) and internal (Keystone Shipping Co., the ship operator).

For the original Duluth News Tribune story, click here. 


Mandatory new anchor supports for Line 5

After a June line inspection, Enbridge has 90 days to install more anchor supports on the twin Line 5 oil pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac. MLive reports that Michigan posted a notice to the company last week, stating that the pipeline was in violation of its 63-year old easement.

According to the 1953 document, Line 5 must keep anchor supports across gaps greater than 75 feet. As the lakebed erodes and shifts over time, those gaps can shift or widen. The June report indicated Enbridge found four locations with gaps greater than 75 feet. To amend the problem, Enbridge applied with the MDEQ on August 1 to install 19 new screw anchor supports, four of which will fix the gaps and the other 15 for “preventative maintenance.”

The new supports would follow 2014’s installation of 40 new supports, after which Enbridge stated in correspondence that its “predictive maintenance model” would not allow for anchor gaps over 75 feet to happen going forward. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, MDEQ director Heidi Grether, and DNR director Keith Creagh co-signed a violation letter on August 3 demanding to know why the maintenance model failed to deliver its promise.

Though Enbridge inspects Line 5 every two years (more frequently than legally necessary), the violation letter called for a new maintenance plan that “should included, as needed, increased inspection frequency.”

To see the full story from MLive, click here.

Great Lakes Commission gets 2 million for phosphorus and sediment reduction

On August 3rd, the Great Lakes Commission announced via press release that it would be receiving $2 million in funding for 14 projects to reduce harmful phosphorus and sediment in the Great Lakes basin. The fund will come from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, facilitative by an agreement between the Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Phosphorus and sediments are being targeted because they’ve caused great harm to the Great Lakes Basin. The Great Lakes commission states that “polluting phosphorus and sediments … [cause] massive economic and environmental losses and damages and contributing to the formation of Harmful Algal Blooms and dead zones.”   Recent examples of locations which have phosphorous and sediment concerns include Toledo, OH’s ongoing efforts to combat algal blooms and Peninsula Harbour’s (Lake Superior) thin layer sediment cap in Jellicoe Cove.

The 14 projects were chosen by the Great Lakes Sediment and Nutrient Reduction Program, which, according to the Great Lakes Commission, prefers to award grants to nonfederal agencies and nonprofit organizations to carry out the initiatives in a “grassroots approach.” The Great Lakes Commission touts its history of working on collaborative projects with local, state, and federal partners to reduce non-point source pollution:

“Over its nearly thirty-year history, this program has supported 438 projects to reduce the input of unwanted sediment, nutrients, and other sediment-borne pollutants into Great Lakes, reducing soil erosion by an estimated 2 million tons and phosphorus loadings by 2 million pounds.”

The funding recipients are as follows:

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InfoSuperior attends Celebrate Nipigon

On Friday July 29th, the InfoSuperior Team trekked from Thunder Bay, ON to Nipigon, ON to attend the Celebrate Nipigon Festival. This year’s festival was an amalgamation of three different annual events – the Paddle to the Sea Jubilee, Blueberry Blast, and artESCAPE. We managed to make it for the Paddle to the Sea Jubilee.

This year’s Paddle to the Sea Jubilee marked 75 years of the beloved children’s book, now celebrated with an annual festival and an ever-expanding park of the same name. This year, Nipigon was proud to
present its latest installation for the Paddle to the Sea Park – a splash pad. The splash pad had been a part of the park plans since approximately 2011-2012, and received funding in early 2016.

image1-2At noon, local and provincial dignitaries from the Trillium Foundation, Canada 150, and city council gathered to unveil the splash pad. After a few short speeches and a ribbon-cutting, MP Michael Gravelle invited three-year-old AJ Nayanookeesic to the splash-pad. Nayanookeesic participated in a contest where children draw pictures of the splash pad, and his name was drawn to give the button its inaugural push to start the splash pad’s festivities. When Nayanookeesic hit the button, children flooded the splash pad to cool off in 30 degree heat.

Next to the town hall, all of Third Street was closed off for vendors, information, and activity booths to celebrate. The day featured artisan craft sellers, food vendors, origami, carnival games and children’s activities, a yoga demonstration by Dawn Conci, free cake, and summer tunes on the stereo system.

We were happy to set up shop and chat with locals about the North Shore Remedial Action Plan and their environmental concerns. Thanks to the township of Nipigon for the festivities, and thanks if you stopped by to say hello!

For more coverage on Celebrate Nipigon:

CBC: Blueberry Blast set to light up Celebrate Nipigon event this weekend

Chronicle Journal: ‘Let the water begin’


Lakehead students field research update

Lakehead undergraduate researcher Brent Straughn brings you a research update from along the north shore of Lake Superior. Under the supervision of graduate researcher Nathan Wilson and LU staffers Dr. Rob Stewart and Jason Freeburn, Brent has been learning the ins-and-outs of field research in tandem with the Superior Streams project. The objective of this project is to collect data on water quality, fish species and abundance data, information about barriers to fish passage which may impact spawning and other information related to fish populations and overall stream ecosystem health. The project is a cooperative venture between Lakehead University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Science and Superior Streams, a group started by local volunteers.  This group is interested in stream ecosystem health, including the health of fish populations. This data collection project is supported by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry through funds of the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA), also by Lakehead University

July 29, 2016

For the past two weeks Nathan and I have been camping at provincial parks along the north shore while we’re assessing streams far east of Thunder Bay. Baseline environmental information for several streams flowing to Superior is being collected as part of our project.

From the 18th to the 22nd we spent our evenings and nights at Neys Provincial Park, and from the 25th to the 27th we were at Rainbow Falls Provincial Park. During these days, we assessed streams from Marathon to Black Bay by driving to road crossings and often walking from the road to railway crossings. Driving along the north shore of Lake Superior to each stream was a great way to get familiar with the local environment. We experienced first hand the importance of small streams as shelter for juvenile fish, and how barriers such as road and railway crossings affect streams and the fish that use them.

Assessing the streams during the day was very informative and fun. The information that we collected from physically walking the streams themselves and the surrounding area helps the project and gives me great work and life experience, as well as learning the fish species in the streams.

When the work day finished, we would head back to the campsite. Camping for those weeks was a great experience. I was able to perfect my overnight camping practices to accommodate for my first week long trip, and was able to enjoy the evenings in the woods and on the lake. With the campsites being right next to the lake, I was also able to cross swimming in Lake Superior off my bucket list.

On our way back from Neys, Nathan and I saw a young black bear on the side of the highway. At first the bear was poking its head out from some tall grasses, but then it got curious. It walked onto the gravel shoulder of the highway to take a closer look at the passing vehicles. Fortunately, the bear got spooked or lost interest and ran back to the safety of the grasses to hopefully continued its search for berries.

Port of Churchill closed, shipping traffic to pick up in Thunder Bay

Last week’s closure of the Port of Churchill (Manitoba) came as a surprise to its workers, among them the town mayor. Mayor Mike Spence confirmed with CBC that about 50 employees were handed layoff notices and another 40 or 50 were waiting to receive similar news via telephone.

“It came out of nowhere,” Spence told CBC. “The community, the employees are devastated by this all. We’re going to have to work at this and rectify this matter… hoping we can reverse this.” Spence also told CBC that he’s contacting provincial and federal governments to ask for intervention.

The port is a major employer in Churchill; it is run by OmniTrax, a Denver-based company. OmniTrax has been trying to sell the port for some time. CBC also interviewed Elden Boon, president of the Hudson Bay Route Association. The association is an advocacy group for the Port of Churchill. He stated the layoffs were sudden to him too, saying that officials from OmniTrax told him there wouldn’t be any more grain shipments going through the port this year, but never indicated there would be layoffs. Boon said this season would mark the first that the port has been shut down since  World War II.

As the Port of Churchill shuts down its operations, it’s expected that the shipping business will shift to Port of Thunder Bay. CBC spoke with Tim Heney, CEO of Thunder Bay Port Authority, who stated that its operations would be marginally affected by the closure.

“The two ports, of course, both do grain, primarily,” Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority said. “Churchill’s much smaller in size. Their historic average shipments were about 500,000 tonnes, whereas Thunder Bay, in the last couple years, is running between eight and nine millions tonnes.”

Henry contextualized 500,000 tonnes as “about 10 days’ shipment” for Thunder Bay.

Henry speculated that the Churchill port was closed in part due to elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board. The CWB used to be in charge of grain transportation in Canada, but is since defunct. Private companies now handle the shipping of their own product, now mostly done through the St. Lawrence Seaway. Heney states that this is fortunate news for Thunder Bay and parts of Quebec, but that he empathizes with those who’ve lost their jobs in Churchill.

For the full CBC story and interview with Heney, click here. 

For the initial CBC story and interview with Churchill mayor Mike Spence, click here.


NOAA debuts new invasive species database

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (U.S.) have debuted a new acquatic invasive species database which aims to help members of the public, researchers, and government bodies keep track of non-indigenous critters introduced to the Great Lakes.

The database is dubbed GLANSIS, the Great Lakes Aquatic Non-Indigenous Species Information System. It is divided into main categories:

  • non-indigenous species: those not natural to the Great Lakes basin
  • range expansion species: those native to some of the Great Lakes but not others
  • watchlist species: those not currently found in the Great Lakes but assessed as likely to invade

GLANSIS is connected to the larger USGS NAS database, and will they’ll be updated simultaneously. However, the GLANSIS database was intended as a Great Lakes-specific tool with targeted information for researchers and citizens only seeking Great Lakes-specific info. If there are any species missing from, or deliberately not included in GLANSIS, the NOAA suggests consulting the NAS database.

The species are included in the database subject to a number of criterion, including

  • geographic criterion – only species established below the Great Lakes high watermark included
  • aquatic criterion – only aquatic species included (therefore not waterfowl, reptiles, and mammals who are not solely dependent on the water)
  • non-indigenous criterion – sudden appearance, subsequent spread, restricted distribution, distribution in association with human involvement, etc
  • range expansion criterion – cryptogenic species are not included
  • established criterion – species which are evidenced to have established life cycles over a period of two consecutive years

Currently, there are 187 non-indigenous species fact sheets available for viewing in GLANSIS, as well as 10 fact sheets for range expansion species. GLANSIS received funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) to make improvements and further developments to the database.

In addition to the data collection and presentation, the NOAA provides a link for citizens and researchers to report invasive species found at new locations, tips for invasive species prevention, a glossary for new-comers, and a kid-friendly page.

To visit GLANSIS, click here.