Month: November 2016

Journal: More Restrictive Fish Consumption Advisories Warranted

Guide to Eating Ontario Fish
Click the graphic to proceed to “The Guide to Eating Ontario Fish.”

Environmental Health Perspectives is a monthly peer-reviewed journal of research and news published with support from the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A new study published in EHP explores consumption advisories due to toxic substances like mercury and PCBs placed on fish in the Great Lakes. These consumption advisories are not limited to the Great Lakes and are in effect for inland waters across every Great Lakes state and Ontario.

The article notes that in the Great Lakes region, “PCB and mercury are the major contaminants causing restriction on consuming fish, while dioxins/furans, toxaphene and mirex/photomirex are of a minor concern.” The article postulates that fish consumption advisories do not take into account a mixture of chemicals.

Fish contaminant monitoring data collected by the Government of Ontario is used for the study and results in a conclusion that, “About half of the advisories presently issued are potentially not adequately protective… Many fish, which are popular for consumption such as walleye, salmon, bass and trout, would have noticeably more stringent advisories.”


Advice for a New Government: Focus on Great Lakes Basics

The Great Lakes Region
The population of the U.S. Great Lakes region is over 55 million, approaching 20% of the country’s population.


The Great Lakes have been mentioned time and again as transition to a new government takes place on the U.S. side. All of this focus on the Great Lakes states however, has been on one thing and one thing only – votes. The environment of the Great Lakes watershed has taken a back seat.

As transition to a new government takes place, a recent article in the “Great Lakes Echo” is a refreshing voice. No side is taken as to election outcome, rather, the article contains advice for the incoming government about managing Great Lakes environmental matters. It is interesting to note that the author doesn’t seem to feel environmental issues in the Lake Superior watershed are even worthy of mention but maybe that’s a good thing. This uppermost Great Lake gets no ink.

Pointing out that the Great Lakes regional economy is the fourth largest in the world, the article goes on to promote a focus on the basics:

  • ensure clean drinking water (after two major drinking water failures in the last two years in the Great Lakes region)
  • fix Lake Erie, (where pollution from agriculture has caused both Canada and USA to rate the lake’s condition as “poor” and “deteriorating”).

Read the full article in the Great Lakes Echo.

Podcast: Book Walks Children Round Lake Superior

Water Walkers
This Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Photo shows the Water Walkers near Ashland, Minnesota on the U.S. side of Lake Superior.

A new children’s book entitled, “Water Walkers” by Michigan Author Carol Trembath, with illustrations by David Craig, takes children on a trip around Lake Superior. The book is based upon the journey undertaken by the Waterwalkers. This group of Anishanaabe women and men walked around Lake Superior and subsequently, year-by-year, walked around the Great Lakes – over 11,000 miles, or 17,000 kilometers.

The new book centers on the Lake Superior portion of their water walks. A 2014 article in the London Free Press quotes group leader Josephine Mandamin, an Anishanaabe women who now lives in Thunder Bay, as saying, “I think Lake Superior was the one we really respected a lot in terms of it’s majestic length and coolness of the water. It was very nice. You couldn’t swim in it because it was so cold. Lake Huron is my home water and I really have a lot of personal attachment to the water there. I’m from Manitoulin Island and Georgian Bay was pristine waters when I was there.”

The Waterwalker’s journey is as much a spiritual passage as it is an environmental one, centered on fact and philosophy wrapped up in the words, “water is life.” The Waterwalkers wish is to promote care and protection of the waters of the Great Lakes. Their walks began in 2003 and have continued since then.


Link to a Michigan Public Radio Podcast about the New Book “Water Walkers.”

Link to purchase the book through Amazon

Read a related 2009 article in the Toronto Star

It Could Never Happen Here

Lake Baikal, Russia.
Lake Baikal, Russia.

We think of Lake Superior as being so large, with so much water, that any minor environmental impacts are simply “swallowed up” by the lake, dwarfed by the lake’s sheer size and volume. A November 14th article in the New York Times however makes it clear that we should definitely not become complacent.

The article delves into the waters of Lake Baikal in Russia. Superior dwarfs Baikal by surface area, covering an area of some 82,100 square kilometers, while Baikal covers less than half of that at 31,722 square kilometers. Measured by water volume however, Baikal is over two times greater in size, coming in at 23,600 cubic kilometers of water, while Superior comes in at 11,600. A rough, handy measure is that Baikal could contain the water in all of the Great Lakes, including Superior.

Specifically, the article talks about the rising incidence of algae in Baikal. Algae has never been part of the picture on Superior, especially when compared with the extreme nutrient input and algae growth problems of Erie. Yet on Superior, everyone from swimmers to scientists have noticed the warmer waters over the last few years. Additionally, National Parks Service staff have actually documented algae growth in the Meyers Beach area, just west of the Apostles Islands in Wisconsin. In this case, documenting algae growth means they actually took samples, examined the algae under the microscope and determined the species of algae.

This is far from saying that any large-scale algae growth is on the way for Superior. However, if there is a sense of “uneasiness” out there about Superior’s water temperatures, algae blooms are something that deserves ongoing observation.

The NYTimes article points out that Lake Baikal is often described as, “the world’s cleanest lake.” The article goes on to say that algae blooms are now occurring on a very major basis with beaches in, “terrible condition…once pristine sands were buried under thick mats of reeking greenish-black goo…This stuff stretched far into the distance, for several kilometers”

Anyone with a close connect to Superior will recognize the almost spiritual presence of Baikal in the minds of many Russians. Few around our own great lake will question the money and resources dedicated to protecting Superior – especially after reading the Baikal article.


Proceed to the NYTimes Baikal article.

Learn about research carried out by Lakehead University student Nathan Wilson at Cloud Lake, 35 km. Southwest of Thunder Bay.

Ice deposit on Mars holds as much water as Lake Superior

Mars (1976)An ice deposit with as much frozen water as the volume of Lake Superior has been found on Mars in a region astronauts may some day call home.

Using NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists performed more than 600 scans of Utopia Planitia, a mid-latitude region on the planet. The scans revealed an ice deposit that ranges in thickness from about 80 metres to 170 metres and is composed of about 50 to 85 per cent water. The rest is likely comprised of dust and rocky material. This deposit accounts for just 1% of all known water ice on Mars. (read more)

Panel: Lake Nipigon Integral to Great Lakes Restoration and Protection

A panel discussion entitled, “The Great Lakes: The First Nations, Metis Nation and Tribal Perspective” hosted by the Great Lakes Water Quality Board of the International Joint Commission was held on the evening of November 9th in Thunder Bay. The session, held at Old Fort William, saw approximately 30 persons attend.

Mark Matson, President of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper moderated the session. The four-member panel included Dr. Rob Stewart of Lakehead University, Harold Michon of Rocky Bay on Lake Nipigon, Dean Jacobs of Walpole Island First Nation on Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River and James Wagar of the Métis Nation of Ontario.

After introductions, the evening began with a series of questions probing the relationship of indigenous peoples with the Great Lakes and the connection between identity and environment. Environmental factors associated with specific locations around the Great Lakes, whether Lake Nipigon, Lake St. Clair or the Detroit River were discussed. Panelists cited examples of environmental degradation as well as models for Great Lakes restoration and protection.

Themes surfaced like the time through generations that indigenous peoples have lived on, around and from the Great Lakes, the close relationship with the Great Lakes environment for hunting, fishing and gathering and the impacts on indigenous peoples of environmental degradation.

Dean Jacobs pointed out that the effects of environmental degradation were substantial in the case of Walpole Island First Nation, just downstream from Sarnia. He stressed that environmental stewardship in this area was critical, citing several innovative, cooperative actions taken by Walpole Island First Nation.

Harold Michon said he thought highly of the environmental cleanup carried out on Lake Superior’s Nipigon Bay. He said he understood that efforts to reduce swings in water levels on the Nipigon River due to hydro-electric power generation were central to efforts to restore Nipigon Bay fish populations. He pointed out though, that the waters of Lake Nipigon were the true headwaters of the Great Lakes. He asserted that although original agreement regarding Nipigon River water levels had sought balance between water levels on Lake Nipigon and the Nipigon River, this balance was not being maintained. He stressed that Lake Nipigon fish populations were experiencing severe negative impacts, especially due to the effects of fluctuating water levels.  He said that while mechanisms for dialogue were in place to address this situation, he would like to see much closer cooperation between Lake Nipigon, Nipigon River and Lake Superior interests.

Rob Stewart agreed that a watershed approach was fundamental to environmental restoration and protection.  He explained that as efforts concluded to address the original suite of very specific environmental issues identified in Nipigon Bay, it was his hope that a broader approach, including Lake Nipigon, be developed and maintained over the longer term.

He said that reports about problems on Lake Nipigon reinforced the need for first-hand, traditional knowledge to be included in environmental considerations. He said water did not respect arbitrary administrative boundaries and that the quality of water in Superior was directly related to the quality of water flowing into it. He stressed that local community members were the people directly impacted by cumulative environmental degradation, whether in the form of pollution or degradation of habitat due to water level swings from power generation. He agreed with the assertion of other panelists, that indigenous peoples are the true environmental stewards, hosting all of us on their traditional lands. He said he was pleased to see an organization like the Water Quality Board of the International Joint Commission come to the most upper portion of the Great Lakes to hear the perspective of regional residents. He said he hoped this action by the Water Quality Board would lead to sufficient resources and capacity for indiginous peoples to host a similar conference of their own and that it would be just, and right, that government representatives and scientists report back to the people who had lived around the Great Lakes for countless generations, rather than indigenous peoples reporting to government. He thanked Water Quality Board members for providing the opportunity to panelists to voice their perspectives.

Audience members put forward several comments and questions, such as whether nuclear waste had finally been ruled out for storage within the Lake Superior watershed, whether lampricide might be affecting species other than lamprey, whether environmental conditions in Thunder Bay Harbour were improving, even after a heavily industrialized past and whether economic, rather than environmental interests were the real focus on the Great Lakes.


SoundCloud: November 30th Randle Reef Presentation Preview

This 10′ Soundcloud audio clip features an interview with Dr. Chris McLaughlin about the “Randle Reef Project“, an environmental cleanup project currently taking place within the waters of Hamilton Harbour on Lake Ontario. Chris is the Executive Director of Hamilton Harbour’s Bay Area Restoration Council. In the audio clip, Chris previews the presentation about the Randle Reef project he will be making at 7 p.m. on November 30th in Room 3004 of the ATAC building at Lakehead University. Everyone is welcome to attend the presentation which is free of charge. Evening parking at Lakehead University is also free of charge. The meeting agenda and directions to the meeting room are provided in the “links” section at the bottom of this post.

Infosuperior will livestream meeting audio and presentations. Click the link below to join the meeting online beginning at 6:45 p.m. Thunder Bay time on November 30th.

Meeting Livestream

Access Code: 815-953-517

Dr. McLaughlin’s presentation will provide information about the Randle Reef project, including the following:

  • the nature of Hamilton harbour contamination
  • the cost of cleanup
  • the organizations cooperating to carry out the project
  • who is paying for the project
  • how was cooperation arrived at to get the project underway
  • information which may be useful in addressing cleanup of the Thunder Bay North Harbour contaminated site.

Dr. McLaughlin’s presentation is part of the meeting of the Public Advisory Committee to the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan, or harbour cleanup plan.


Hamilton Harbour Cleanup Project Presentation – November 30th

Construction of the Randle Reef cleanup project in Hamilton Harbour.
Construction of the Randle Reef cleanup project in Hamilton Harbour. A 7 p.m. November 30th presentation at Lakehead University will outline the background and construction for this $139 million project.

The largest environmental cleanup ever undertaken on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes will be the topic of a presentation by Dr. Chris McLaughlin at 7 p.m. on November 30th in room ATAC 3004 at Lakehead University. Dr. McLauglin is the Executive Director of the Hamilton Harbour Bay Area Restoration Committee.

The presentation will be featured at a meeting of the Public Advisory Committee to the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan, or harbour cleanup plan, where Dr. McLaughlin will provide an overview of Hamilton’s “Randle Reef” cleanup project. Everyone is welcome to attend the meeting which is free of charge. Evening parking at Lakehead University is also free of charge. The meeting agenda and directions to the meeting are included in the “Links” section at the bottom of this post.

Infosuperior will livestream meeting audio and presentations. Click the link below to join the meeting online beginning at 6:45 p.m. Thunder Bay time on November 30th.

Meeting Livestream

Access Code: 815-953-517

The Randle Reef site contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other toxic chemicals and is the largest contaminated site of this type on the Canadian Great Lakes. The source of contamination includes Hamilton’ steel industry, also coal gasification, petroleum refining, municipal waste and sewage, along with overland drainage. Dr Mclauglin’s presentation will provide information as to how this $139 million cleanup project is being carried out and how resolution and cooperation was finally arrived at between project partners, after a process lasting decades. Costs for the Randle Reef project are being shared by a consortium including U.S. Steel, the Hamilton Harbour Port Authority, federal, provincial and municipal project supporters.  The Thunder Bay Public Advisory Committee hopes Dr. McLaughlin’s overview of the Hamilton situation will be instructive in finding resolution for a large contaminated area in the northern section of Thunder Bay’s own harbour, off the mouth of the Current River.

By way of comparison, basic Hamilton Harbour and Thunder Bay contaminated site and cleanup project parameters:

Hamilton Harbour Randle Reef                                                                  Thunder Bay North Harbour

Contaminants                            PAHs/other contaminants                               Mercury/other contaminants

Volume (cubic meters)             695,000                                                                 400,000

Area (hectares)                           60                                                                            26

Cleanup cost                               $139 million                                                        $40 to >90 million depending upon method

The Public Advisory Committee will also hear a sub-committee recommendation regarding the health of Thunder Bay fish populations. A presentation on this topic was given by Eric Berglund of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry at the September 21st Public Advisory Committee meeting.

Further information about Randle Reef from

“The Randle Reef sediment remediation project involves constructing a 6.2 hectare engineered containment facility (ECF) on top of a portion of the most contaminated sediment, then dredging and placing the remaining contaminated sediment in the facility. The facility will be made of double steel sheet pile walls with the outer walls being driven to depths of up to 24 metres into the underlying sediment. The inner and outer walls will be sealed creating an impermeable barrier. The sediment will then be covered by a multi-layered environmental cap”



Thunder Bay Harbour Featured in New Smithsonian Institute Video

The Algoma Equinox Great Lakes – St. Lawrence waterway bulk carrier and a first mate from Newfoundland are “standard issue” for any Great Lakes working harbour. The Port of Thunder Bay is a great example of just such a busy shipping hub. These elements  are wrapped up in a high-quality video produced by the Smithsonian Institute as this ship loads 30,000 tons of grain, then struggles through Superior’s November gales and across all of the other Great Lakes to get in one last delivery before winter shutdown. The video clip above is a short  “trailer” for the movie.

If you’ve never been aboard a ship in Thunder Bay Harbour as it takes on grain, this video trailer takes you there. High definition footage shows the staggering amounts of grain loaded in Thunder Bay.

If you’d care to follow the Algoma Equinox as it crosses the Great Lakes, information as to full video TV times or how to purchase the video on Itunes is available via the following link:


Ontario MNRF Will Fund Species At Risk Science

Lake Superior researcher
A researcher records Lake Superior fish population data collected aboard the USGS research vessel “Kiyi.”

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is now accepting applications for the 2017-2018 Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario (SARRFO). Applications must be received electronically by 11:59am (noon) Thursday, December 15, 2016  

The SARRFO supports the protection and recovery of species at risk by funding high quality scientific research that addresses key threats, knowledge gaps, and informs better species protection and management. SARRFO Guidelines should be read carefully before completing and submitting an application. 

Priorities have been identified for the 2017-18 funding year and are outlined within the Guidelines. Applications that address any of the 2017-18 priorities will be considered for funding before subsequent applications.

For more information, please contact Kim Jaxa-Debicki at 705-755-5506 or