A little bird is stirring up big excitement on the North Shore of Lake Superior.
For the second time in two years, a piping plover has made an appearance by Duluth’s Park Point Beach House. Wildlife enthusiasts, environmental organizations, and government agencies are hoping to see the endangered bird start nesting on Minnesota’s side of Lake Superior for the first time since the 1980s.
Volunteer plover watchers confirmed the bird’s presence on Saturday May 21 and officials for the St. Louis River Alliance are now keeping track of it and asking people to stay away from it. They are particularly concerned that the bird may be spooked into leaving the beach by people and pets. The plover has already had one scare off the beach by an unleashed dog.
The St. Louis River Alliance is a partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is working to attract and keep plovers in the Twin Ports. They told the Duluth News Tribune that the bird at Park Point is “a female from North Manitou Island in Lake Michigan,” and said that “the sighting of a female is extra special for the Great Lakes population” in a statement announcing the sighting.
The Alliance is hoping to see the plover find a male mate to nest with along the shore of Superior – something that hasn’t happened since the 1980s. The nearest breeding pairs are found in the Apostle Islands. Last year a male and female pair were spotted in the area, but left and were not seen again after May 21.
The Alliance has been working to restore piping plover habitat in the Twin Ports so that if a male and female make it to the North Shore at the same time, they might decide to stay and nest. Their efforts include cutting trees, clearing debris and driftwood off the beach, and erecting fencing to keep predators, dogs, and people away from any nests.
In March, headlines reported good news in the fight against invasive species: no new invasives had been detected in the Great Lakes in a decade. Enthusiasm might be short-lived, however. A recent push in U.S. Congress, backed by the shipping industry, to loosen regulation around ballast water treatment is being condemned by the White House and environmental groups as a step backward in protecting the Great Lakes.
According to the Associated Press, the measure was “tucked into a $602 million defense bill” that was passed in the House mid-May. Sponsored by California Republican Duncan Hunter, the provision would exempt ballast water discharges from regulation under the federal Clean Water Act. In effect, this prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing standards and leaves the U.S. Coast Guard solely in charge. The two agencies currently share those responsibilities.
Hunter said that the measure would provide an overarching federal rule on ballast water treatment and is “intended to simplify a confusing patchwork of state and federal ballast regulations that is burdensome to shippers and hampers interstate commerce.” Great Lakes shipping and port organizations endorsed Hunter’s amendment.
Environmental advocates responded critically, pointing out that loosening regulation around ballast treatment would be a regressive move.
“The Clean Water Act is the nation’s only comprehensive law that can combat an environmental plague of aquatic invasive species that costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars and touches every single state in the union with its destructive powers,” said Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates in Portland, Oregon.
The White House chimed in with a statement condemning the Hunter provision, saying it “undermines the ability to fight the spread of invasive species” and would “irreparably hinder the successful prosecution of unlawful discharges.”
Critics say the issue should be treated separately from the defense bill, and suggest that the amendment was attached to an essential military bill to prevent a presidential veto. Supporters of the bill rebutted by mentioning that the annual defense measure routinely includes maritime provisions because they are important to national defense.
Much of the debate is focused on how stringently ballast water should be treated before it is released. Ballast water is taken on by freighter ships to provide stability in rough waters, but it can contain organisms (plant, animal, virus,) which may be harmful when introduced from one environment to another as the water is released in ports far away. Quagga mussels, zebra mussels, Asian carp, and sea lampreys are examples of invasive species which have wrecked havoc on the Great Lakes.
Current regulation enforces treatment of ballast water to kill off these organisms before they can do damage. In 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard adopted international standards which required ship operators to limit the number of live organisms in ballast water. It also required that ocean-going vessels (‘salties’) exchange their ballast water at sea, or rinse empty tanks with saltwater to kill freshwater creatures. A year later, the EPA followed suit and adopted the same standards.
In October 2015, a federal appeals court ordered the EPA to build on their policy and toughen the rules with treatment methods such as filtration, UV light, and chlorine application. Environmentalists fear that order will be nullified if Hunter’s amendment is passed and strips the EPA and Great Lakes states of their power to enforce investment in improved treatment methods.
In June, the Senate is expected to vote on its own defense bill. If the ballast water provision is not added, it will be among issues the House and the Senate will negotiate to produce a final version.
Have you ever seen a Spanish galleon, viking ship, or giant rubber duck gracing Lake Superior waters? If the answer is no, you’ll get your chance at Tall Ships Duluth this summer. (We haven’t seen them either, for the record. Yet.)
Produced by Draw Events, Tall Ships Duluth celebrates just that – tall sailing vessels which come to Duluth harbour for a weekend so that festival attendees can explore and take rides on them. This year, Tall Ships Duluth will run from August 18-21, 2016, and promises to be the largest event in the festival’s history. According to the festival’s website, “Duluth will be one of only a handful of Great Lakes ports that will host the prestigious Tall Ships Challenge and is the only destination on Lake Superior.”
The event boasts that nine ships will visit, ranging from replica Spanish galleon and viking ships to re-creations of 19th century Great Lakes three-mast schooners. As part of the Tall Ships Challenge, the ships participate in a race around the Great Lakes, stopping in several Great Lakes ports along the way. The stops are listed as Brockville, ON; Toronto, ON; Erie, PA; Fairport Harbor, OH; various ports; Bay City, MI; Chicago, IL; Green Bay, WI; and Duluth, MN. According to their website, the races will held from July 1 until mid-September. While nine ships are advertised on the Tall Ships Duluth website, they caution that not all ships may make it for the event. Through MarineTraffic.com, they offer a real-time mapping tool which allows you to track the ships as they cross the Great Lakes.
Every year, the Tall Ships Challenge is held in a different part of the world. Last years’ challenge was held on the Atlantic Coast; it has been two years since the challenge has been held in the Great Lakes. Festival gates open at noon on August 18th, and the Parade of Sail is slated for 2pm the same day. Opening ceremonies will be at 4pm on August 18th.
To compliment the tall ship line-up, the event will host an entertainment line-up, food and drink, and “The Big Duck”: the world’s largest rubber duck, making its first appearance in Duluth. The attraction, dubbed “Mama Duck,” is an inflatable and available for viewing, but not for rides. Tickets, festival schedule, and more are available at TallShipsDuluth.com. You can also follow Tall Ships Duluth on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for up-to-date information.
Photo credit: Tall Ships Duluth
In April, InfoSuperior picked up and reported on some disheartening news: a study which showed Lake Superior was the fastest warming of all the Great Lakes, and one of the fastest warming in the world.
According to tbnewswatch.com, sailors aiming to corroborate the findings with both anecdotal and scientific evidence came ashore in Thunder Bay recently. The Gordon family, based out of Minnesota, have been sailing around Lake Superior for three years to give presentations on climate change, and claim they have observed warmer surface temperatures and earlier thaws.
“We have seen an increase in the length of our season since we started sailing,” Katya Gordon told tbnewswatch.com.
“We used to never sail in the month of May, now we sail routinely in May and routinely in October.”
The Gordons sailed into Thunder Bay harbour on May 14th. For this year’s circumnavigation, they are accompanied by a crew of interns and students from colleges and universities around the lake. The students have been conducting research to test the lake warming as the journey progresses, presenting their findings to people around the lake as they go ashore.
While the Gordon family and their crew are delivering unsettling news about the lake warming, they also aim to foster discussion around possible solutions to the mounting evidence that the Great Lakes are experiencing drastic climate change effects.
“We believe solutions come from every level. We discuss little things people can do, things people can do as a community or as a school,” Gordon said.
“(Those actions are) not transforming our world fast enough so we also talk about putting a price on carbon, specifically this legislation called carbon fee and dividend.”
The carbon fee and dividend system proposes to charge a fee on greenhouse gas emitting energy sources (oil, coal, natural gas), progressively increase that fee, and then return the fee to the public. This is a different structure than Ontario’s recently-passed cap-and-trade legislation, which imposes a carbon emission limit on companies, and then allows them to buy or sell credits if they go over or under their limits.
The Association of Canadian Port Authorities will be holding their 58th Annual General Meeting & Conference in Thunder Bay, ON this fall. From Sept 6-9, 2016 representatives from port authorities all over the country will gather in Thunder Bay to “Sea the Superior Way.” The Thunder Bay Port authority notes that 8,909,499 tonnes of cargo were shipped through the Port of Thunder bay in 2016, making it a very significant Canadian port. Take a tour of the Thunder Bay port with this interactive Thunder Bay Port Authority graphic.
Founded in 1958, the ACPA serves as a national organizational body for ports and marine interests, including all Canadian port authorities, government entities, and companies doing business in the marine sector. Identifying itself as the “leading Association for advocacy and advancement of the Canadian Port Industry,” the organization boasts of its members’ contribution to local, regional, and national economy (“250,000 direct and indirect jobs and handling more than $400 billion worth of goods annually”).
The ACPA states that fostering and facilitating relationships in the industry is its primary goal:
“The ultimate goal of the Association is to effectively represent the interests of the Canadian port community in building solid bridges to key government officials — at all three levels — allied associations, and valued business partners to ensure that issues do not become problems; and problems find quick solutions.”
Last year’s conference was held in Montreal, QC and focused on innovation and creativity in the port and marine industry. It featured panel discussions and keynote speakers addressing topics such as sustainability in marine transport, leveraging social media to promote port authorities and marine economy, the role of Canadian ports in value chains, how e-commerce and the internet affect shipping logistics, and the evolution of “smart ports,’ among others. This year’s line-up of panelists and keynote speakers has yet to be posted by the ACPA, and will be updated to their website as they’re booked.
Registration for the event is now open, promising early bird rates to those who book by June 30, 2016. The rates are said to include all meals and special events: conferences, trade shows, The Great Rendez-Vous evening, Prince Arthur Cocktail Reception, and a tour of Thunder Bay Port. Guests must book their hotel rooms separately, and the conference hotel is the Valhalla Inn (book by June 1st to get conference rates).
The conference provides the Thunder Bay Port Authority to showcase their operations as well as act as ambassadors for the city as a whole.
In anticipation of his upcoming presentation in Thunder Bay, the InfoSuperior Team caught up with Dr. Mark McMaster to give us a preview of his talk on “Fish Tumours and Other Deformities.” Click on the play button below to listen to the full interview.
Everyone is welcome to come see Dr. McMaster present on June 1st. The meeting will be held at Richardson International Grain Terminal at 303 Shipyard Drive, Thunder Bay, ON. The meeting will be held from 7-9pm, is free to attend, and light refreshments will be served. For more info, check our ‘Meetings’ page here.
Chatting with us from his office at the Canadian Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington, ON, McMaster told InfoSuperior’s Jim Bailey that while he is more of a fish reproductive toxicologist than a tumour expert, he has done a lot of research on the subject in the last decade. As part of his role at Environment and Climate Change Canada, and with funding through the Great Lakes Action Plan, McMaster and Dr. Paul Baumann evaluated tumour levels present in white sucker fish in Thunder Bay in 2007. Fish tumours were one of the initial impairments which led to Thunder Bay being listed as an area of concern in 1987.
What McMaster and Baumann found in 2007 was that tumour levels were low, but the fish being examined were very young. Baumann’s recommendation was to re-evaluate again in a few years, repeating the sample research after the fish had time to mature. McMaster returned in 2013 to do so, and it is these findings that he’ll be presenting June 1st at Richardson International Grain Terminal.
To do the research, McMaster says he collects samples of species that are exposed to contaminated sediments. In the lower Great Lakes, brown bullhead are used for the sample. In Superior, samples of white sucker fish are collected, which are bottom-feeding. Since tumour levels are generally pretty low, McMaster says he needs a large sample size – about 100 fish from each area.
In August 2013, McMaster carried out his research and collected 100 white suckers from the Thunder Bay area. With preserved liver tissue from the sample, preliminary analysis was done at the Canadian Centre for Inland Waters, and then contracted out to a fish pathologist from the Ministry of Agriculture in British Columbia to do final assessment for tumours.
McMaster has worked across the Great Lakes and studied fish health in all Canadian areas of concern. He’s now doing research in the Athabasca River to monitor the effects of oil sands on fish.
Having done research in Terrace Bay for his masters and PhD degrees, McMaster says he has fond memories and good friends from the North Shore of Superior and he retains a keen interest in the area. It’s “by far a favourite” site for him to work at, and he looks forward to returning to present on June 1st.
Three massive announcements were made in environment and climate change policy last week. Ontario makes a major move to tackle carbon emissions, and the government calls for participation and feedback on its Great Lakes programs in two outreach announcements. See the headlines below!
1. Review & Comment: major Great Lakes document in draft stage, looking for input until July
A draft Nearshore Framework for Great Lakes, a document pertaining to water management, has been completed and is up for review and public comment. The document was created to satisfy a requirement of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement which spans Canada and the U.S. It covers watersheds which connect to the coastline of the Great Lakes and the international section of the St. Lawrence river. The purpose of the document is to assess nearshore waters that will assist in identifying management priorities, including protection of ecologically valuable areas, protection of water quality, and restoration of degraded areas.
Comments must be submitted by July 12, 2016. They can be forwarded to contacts at Binantional.net (click here).
2. Federal government looking for public and organizational participation in Great Lakes concerns
Environment and Climate Change Canada is looking for stakeholder involvement in their Great Lakes programs and policies. This is an excellent opportunity to engage with lakewide partnerships and organizations that have a hand in developing and implementing policies and projects around the Great Lakes. Whether you want to have direct input, or just be kept informed of key policy and project updates, they’re looking to hear from you.
They issued the following notice via email last week:
3. Ontario passes ‘cap-and-trade’ climate change legislation
Last Wednesday, Ontario passed the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-Carbon Economy Act. The legislation creates a cap-and-trade system, which sets a maximum-allowable pollution limit, and issues permits (or credits) to companies specifying what their carbon emission limit is (the ‘cap’). If a company goes over this limit, they will be penalized. However, they can buy or sell emission permits/credits if they come in above or below their limits (the ‘trade’).
In a press release, Ontario said it would invest money raised by the cap-and-trade program into a “new Greenhouse Gas Reduction Account,” and promised to “invest every dollar in green projects and initiatives that reduce emissions.” They report that the first auction of these permits/credits will happen in March 2017. However, under other cap-and-trade programs, companies are granted free permits/credits as incentive to prevent them from moving their operations to locations without cap-and-trade systems. While there’s no word on whether this will happen in Ontario, it has been reported that some industries will receive a four-year exemption from the program for the same reason.
The province will be linking its cap-and-trade system with Quebec and California, who already have these programs in effect. This means that Ontario companies can buy permits from (or sell to) companies in California and Quebec, and vice versa. According to The Globe and Mail, Manitoba will follow suit with a cap-and-trade program of its own, but will limit it to 20 of the province’s large polluters.
So how much will the cap cover? The Globe reports that “emission allowances will be capped at roughly 142 metric tonnes per year in 2017, which is expected to decline 4.17 per cent each year to 2020, when the Liberals hope to have achieved a 15-per-cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over 1990 levels.”
The plan is expected to add approximately $5/month to home heating bills, and 4.3 cents to the cost per litre of gasoline. A published report and subsequent media reporting on May 16 suggested that the Liberal government planned to phase out the use of natural gas for heating, causing public outcry. However, they denied the claims on May 18, the day the legislation was passed. According to The Globe and Mail:
“Despite what the opposition are saying, we’re not forcing anyone off of natural gas,” Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal told the legislature Wednesday.
“There will not be climate change police in the province of Ontario seizing natural gas furnaces or fireplaces.”
Erin Denny and Lexi Bruno are looking to make a statement, and they chose a precedent-setting Superior kayaking adventure to do it.
Starting on June 4, the two University of Minnesota Duluth grads will be setting out from Part Point beach in Duluth, MN to circumnavigate Lake Superior in kayaks. The Duluth News Tribune reports that they’ll be travelling northeast towards Canada, and hope to end up back in Duluth. If they’re successful, they’ll be the first women in documented history to do so.
While two other female paddlers completed the journey in 2011, they were in a canoe, not kayaks.
While the prospect of paddling Superior is a scintillating adventure in and of itself, the long-time paddlers are hoping to make the journey a statement. The best friends worked together as paddle guides with UMD’s Kayaking and Canoe institute in 2013-2014 and encountered some frustrating sexist commentary, despite being qualified and highly-skilled instructors.
You really think you’re going to be able to get that person back into their boat by yourself?” Bruno recalls being asked.
“You can load a trailer?” Denny was questioned.
In response, Bruno and Denny are naming their journey “Making Waves” – a call to women to trust their abilities, pursue adventures, and disrupt limiting stereotypes. While they are completing the journey for themselves, they hope to inspire other women to undertake similar journeys. They’ve presented their idea to women’s groups in Minnesota, and hope to speak about their experience to audiences of local women when they return to Duluth.
While they’re tackling Superior, Bruno and Denny are stocked up on gear and taking safety as the highest priority. They will be able to communicate with loved ones while on the lake by using a GPS device which tracks their location and allows them to send messages when they’re without cell service. They’ve also invested in a strobe light, flare gun, and two-way marine radio in case of emergencies. They told the News Tribune that safety material was their biggest expense.
If you wish to help, they are currently fundraising for their trip at gofundme.com/makewaves.
The paddlers are particularly looking forward to seeing the beauty of Superior’s shore in its various forms. On the North Shore in Canada, they’ll be treated to soaring cliff faces and stretches of forest. Superior’s south side will expose hollowed-out caves and sandy dune beaches.
While they’re exploring, the pair will keep up a tradition of taking headstand photos on their adventures. The pair make their love of yoga known on social media, and it looks like they’ve mastered good core strength!
To keep up with the headstand updates and Superior adventure, follow ‘Make Waves’ on social media. They’re posting updates to their makewavespaddle Twitter feed, makewaves-adventure Instagram account and Make Waves page on Facebook.
According to data released by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 99 percent of chinook salmon now caught by Lake Superior anglers are born in the wild, not in a hatchery.
The claim is based on several years of data collected by dockside creel clerks, who monitor the difference between wild and hatchery salmon via tagging systems. 1.5 million chinook salmon which have been stocked in Lake Superior since 2012 have adipose fin clips supplied by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The clerks count which fish are tagged and which aren’t, and use the ratio to determine whether or not the populations are self-sustaining.
While chinook salmon stocks have dwindled in Lakes Huron and Michigan, Superior’s populations appear to be healthy and consistently self-sustaining, despite the annual catch numbers being smaller in Superior. MLive.com spoke with DNR Lake Superior Basin coordinator Phil Schneeberger, who said that Lake Superior salmon have more prey fish – like smelt or cisco – to feast on in Superior than the lower Great Lakes. Chinook in Lakes Huron and Michigan feed on baitfish, whose numbers are dwindling due to the effects of invasive quagga mussels.
MLive.com reports that on average, 3,000 chinook salmon are caught in Lake Superior, compared to 10,000 coho salmon or 25,000-30,000 lake trout. Fisheries are less robust in Superior because it has colder overall temperatures and lower levels of nutrients. So for the Superior angler, the chinook are prized because, as Schneeberger points out, they are a larger and more elusive catch. They are often termed “king” salmon among angling aficionados.
Though Michigan continues to stock fish in the lower Great Lakes, as it has done for 50 years, it stopped stocking coho salmon Superior in 2005. Schneeberger says that the populations of coho have “maintained themselves quite consistently since then,” and indicates that they are now looking at reducing the number of chinook salmon being stocked.
Michigan continues to stock 400,000 chinook annually in Superior, though Minnesota and Wisconsin stopped their chinook stocking. Ontario contributes 100,000 to chinook salmon stocks annually. Schneeberger told MLive.com that the Michigan DNR would be looking at increasing steelhead stocking.
Photo credit: Garrett Ellison, MLive.com
After a drawn out investigation, a six-week detainment in Duluth, MN, and a start to a new shipping season, the German cargo ship Cornelia was served with criminal charges last week for illegally dumping oily water into the Great Lakes.
MST Mineralien Schiffahrt, a German Shipping company, was indicted on allegations that it violated the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. The company faced two accusations: failing to maintain an accurate ship record about oil-contaminated waste, and presenting falsified records to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Associated Press found in court documents that, from February 2015 to October 2015, the company’s ocean-freighter M/V Cornelia was leaking significant amounts of oily wastewater. Prosecutors allege that on at least 10 occasions, the ship’s engineers issued orders to transfer machinery space bilge water from a dirty bilge tank to a clean one – then discharge the oily wastewater overboard.
They claim the chief engineer intentionally failed to record these incidents, giving false impression that the oily wastewater was properly disposed of.
At least one incident is alleged to have occurred around May 2015, when the ship was passing through the Great Lakes.
The Liberia-registered Cornelia was detained outside the Duluth harbour for six weeks at the end of last year, before high-tailing it out of port after clearance. The ship was detained by the Coast Guard for an investigation which was started by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Minnesota on Nov. 9. Crew members were not allowed to leave the ship during that time, and faced much anxiety over financial losses as they sat idle just outside the Duluth Harbor.
The ship was cleared to leave port on Dec. 18th so it could make it through the Welland Canal by closing on Dec. 26, and through the St. Lawrence River locks by closing on Dec. 30.