International Association for Great Lakes Research 2018 Conference – June 18th to 22nd, Scarborough, Ontario
All plenaries will be livestreamed – Schedule
Professor of Biology, Université du Québec à Montréal
The Carbon Footprint of Lakes: From Transformation Processes to Large-Scale Patterns
Friday, June 22, 11:40 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Thanks to Everyone Who Participated
Twenty-five volunteers attended a Lake Superior beach cleanup at Mountain Bay on June 10th. Mountain Bay is located on the Canadian shore of Lake Superior some 50 km east of the community of Nipigon. The cleanup was organized by Parks Canada, the organization developing the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. The Nipigon Bay Remedial Action Plan also assisted. Special thanks to George and Flora Osborn who generously hosted volunteers on their property.
Parks Canada and InfoSuperior staff, with volunteers from Nipigon, Mountain Bay, Rossport and Schrieber, collected approximately 145, 392 nurdles over a 4 hour period. Nurdles are small pieces of plastic, which are the raw material for production of most articles made from plastic. The nurdles, along with sand and debris, which was impossible to sort out, filled three 30L/8 gal. bins. Nurdles were collected by hand, using screens, sieves, brooms, shovels and even a makeshift sluice that was developed by Mountain Bay resident Chuck Hutterli.
To count the nurdles, the entire quantity was separated into 52 even parts, one of which was counted and determined to contain 2,796 nurdles. This number was then multiplied by 52 for an estimated total of 145,392 nurdles.
Stop Plastic Pollution Before it Enters the Lake
Cleanup is very helpful in addressing the Nipigon Bay nurdles situation (background info below). Parks Canada and all volunteers deserve thanks. Several volunteers expressed frustration at the difficulty of nurdle cleanup, learning first-hand that cleaning up plastic pollution after it hits the lake is a difficult “end of pipe” solution. Moving forward, several volunteers expressed the opinion that everyone using the lake and its watershed, whether for recreational or commercial purposes, should put prevention first. They said emphasis should be placed on stopping plastic pollution before it enters the lake.
People have been hearing about “microplastics” for years now, especially in the oceans, but nurdles, in Lake Superior? Nurdles, classified as microplastics under Canadian legislation, are round, tabular pieces of plastic, approximately 5 mm (3/16th of an inch) across and perhaps a couple of millimetres (1/16th of an inch) thick. They are the raw material for nearly all things plastic and they are produced in the billions – every year. Needless to say, nurdles need to be shipped to facilities producing plastic products and one such transport ended in a train wreck just west of Rossport, Ontario, near Lake Superior.
The train wreck was in January, 2008 and now, more than ten years later, the nurdles continue to appear on Lake Superior beaches, perhaps even more than previously. On a remote stretch of beach on the Canadian side of Lake Superior these small pieces of plastic are mixed with natural debris, littering the beach and forming the high water mark where waves sweep the shore. When accidents happen, like the train wreck in 2008 , nurdles end up in our waterways and on our beaches where they can be ingested by fish, birds and other wildlife.
How Extensive Can This Plastic Pollution Be?
When storms wash large quantities of nurdles ashore (they float), nurdles can appear like snow covering the beach – in summer. At the June 10th cleanup, Virginia McCollum of Schreiber, who helped out with her husband Bruce, expressed indignation that more hadn’t been done to clean up. She referenced Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) saying she hoped they would pitch in. Other North Shore residents went so far as to say they wouldn’t participate in a cleanup, saying the actions of volunteers only “enabled” CPR to avoid their environmental responsibilities. CPR’s Jeffrey Piester, an environmental officer with the company, says over $2 million has already been spent on cleanup. He expressed interest in further, ongoing cooperative efforts but so far, no specific plan has been put forward.
InfoSuperior has received numerous reports of the nurdles from distant points on Lake Superior.
In May, InfoSuperior received a call from Brenda Grundt who runs the Wawa-News online newspaper. Brenda said she had observed nurdles on Michipicoten Bay’s stunningly beautiful Sandy Beach. She followed up with an article in the Wawa-News. Wawa is approximately 242 km./150 mi. from Rossport, so the nurdles have moved over long distances.
Subsequently, Leo Lepiano, Lands and Resources Consulting Coordinator at Michipicoten First Nation, got in touch with InfoSuperior to say he was observing nurdles on Wawa area beaches.
Dave Tamblyn, Chair of Lakehead University’s Board of Governors contacted InfoSuperior through Facebook to say he constantly observes nurdles on beaches in the Rossport area where he lives.
Paul Turpin, who runs Discovery Charters out of Rossport, got in touch to say he would be glad to pitch in to locate any larger quantities of nurdles on Rossport area islands. Then, while kayaking in the Wawa area on the weekend of June 2nd/3rd, Infosuperior staff observed the nurdles themselves on otherwise pristine beaches.
This observation was backed up by Lake Superior kayak guides Jake O’Flaherty and Jennifer Upton from Naturally Superior Adventures who said they have observed the nurdles on beaches in many parts of the lake. Jake and Jennifer, who paddle many remote areas of Superior on a frequent basis, volunteered to communicate further sightings/locations to InfoSuperior.
Have You Seen Nurdles? Get in Touch With InfoSuperior
In short, nurdles are a big problem. Do they all come from one train wreck? Hard to say but there are plenty to go around. Have you seen nurdles on Lake Superior shores? Please get in touch if you have. Maybe take a picture or two and note your specific location. InfoSuperior would especially like to hear from people on the U.S. side of the lake, in order to document the extent of the problem. InfoSuperior can be reached through jfbailey at lakeheadu dot ca (email addresses attract spam, hence the preceding “long form” version of the email).
In the meantime…your lake, your choice. Lets do everything we can to prevent the mess which is plastic pollution.
Ooctober 1st, 2017 Infosuperior Post: “Nipigon Bay Beach Cleanup Nets Almost 200,000 “Nurdles”
May 10th, 2016 Infosuperior Post: “Nipigon Nurdles Meeting Summary”
April 26th, 2016 Infosuperior Post: “Nipigon Nurdles Issue Gains Traction”
April 20th, 2016 Infosuperior Post: “Nurdles in Nipigon Bay: Local Microplastics Concerns”
Lakehead University’s Dr. Michael Rennie, assistant professor of Biology and Canada Research Chair in Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries, recently received an Early Researcher Award of $100,000 through the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation, and Science.
With an additional $50,000 from Lakehead University, the five-year grant supports Dr. Rennie’s research to restore the ecology of lakes negatively impacted by industry.
“This award gives our research group a lot of exciting opportunities for student-led investigations into ecosystem restoration projects both at the International Institute for Sustainable Development Experimental Lakes Area and on Lake Superior,” said Dr. Rennie, adding, “It’s such an honour to receive the award and we’re very excited about the science it will generate.”
Thousands of Ontario lakes and many more around the world have been negatively impacted by industry. The restoration of lakes impacted by the release of nutrients and mining/smelting activities has been happening for decades, but according to Dr. Rennie, biological recovery in many of these ecosystems has been slow and difficult to gauge due to a lack of pre-impact information.
At the Experimental Lakes Area, Dr. Rennie and his team of two PhD students, two Masters of Science students and three undergraduate summer students will develop methods to determine the presence of keystone species in ecosystems with help from Lakehead’s Paleo-DNA lab. They will use that information to develop methods for enhancing lake ecosystem recovery through an experimental reintroduction of native biological species.
Insights gained from studying fish behaviour on the Great Lakes will help improve the restoration of over-fished populations.
“Congratulations to Dr. Rennie and his team for receiving this provincial grant,” said Dr. Andrew P. Dean, Lakehead’s Vice-President, Research and Innovation, “I look forward to seeing the results of this important research, which will provide excellent hands-on experience for Lakehead students.”
Lakehead University has approximately 9,700 full-time equivalent students and 2,000 faculty and staff in 10 faculties at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead is a fully comprehensive university: home to Ontario’s newest Faculty of Law in 44 years, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and faculties of Engineering, Business Administration, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Social Sciences & Humanities, Science & Environmental Studies, Natural Resources Management, Education, and Graduate Studies. Maclean’s 2018 University Rankings place Lakehead University among Canada’s Top 10 primarily undergraduate universities, as well as first in Total Research Dollars, second for Citations, and third for Scholarships and Bursaries. In 2017, Research Infosource named Lakehead “Research University of the Year” in its category for the third consecutive year. Visit www.lakeheadu.ca.
August 30th, 2017 Infosuperior Post: “North Harbour Tour Brings Fresh Perspectives”
March 14th, 2017 Infosuperior Post: “Roundtable Discussions: What Can we Do About Mercury in Our Water?“
Buffalo Reef, a natural structure that provides spawning and rearing habitat for a significant number of Lake Superior’s trout and white fish populations is in danger of being swallowed up by fine sand tailings from a century old copper mine. The Stamp Sands, as they are referred to, were originally deposited in the lake and on its shores near Gay, MI.
Erosion of the original sand deposit, estimated to have been 22 million cubic yards, has reduced it to 2.3 million cubic yards. The majority of the eroded sediment has travelled south along the shore of Lake Superior towards Grand Traverse Harbour and the nearby Buffalo Reef on Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.
A retaining wall at Grand Traverse Harbour keeps the majority of the sands from travelling further south onto natural white sand beaches, although a storm in October 2017 did push some past the wall.
Grand Traverse Harbour has been dredged previously in 2003, 2009, 2015 and most recently in 2017 and will most likely be dredged again this fall to protect young fish populations coming from Buffalo Reef. It is predicted that 60% of Buffalo Reef will no longer be able to support fish spawning by 2025, so dredging north of Buffalo Reef is necessary to extend its lifetime.
There are plans to do just that, but the project might be delayed until next year according to Steve Casey, Upper Peninsula district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Water Resources Division. Dredging of 200,000 cubic yards of stamp sands from an underwater bedrock trough was set to take place last month but has been delayed due to permit and contracting issues.
The United States EPA had provided $3.1 million dollars for the planning and implementation of the dredging project to be carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Everything was set to go until concerns were brought up regarding real estate and the dredging of natural sands from the underwater trough. Steven Check, a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit, has suggested that if bid documents are adjusted and submitted by late June, dredging could begin by late August.
A public meeting is being scheduled for July to provide further updates on this project and to gather public input on proposed long-term protection plans for the reef. The trough dredging project will only provide 5 to 7 years of protection for Buffalo Reef; therefore, the groups involved in protecting the reef hope to have a long-term plan in place by 2026 and a prevention system for further erosion of the source pile by 2022.
Links to Previous InfoSuperior Articles on Buffalo Reef Project:
A recent study by the University of Wisconsin–Superior‘s Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI) shows that Lakers are transporting non-native species from the lower great lakes to western Lake Superior. Ballast water is held in the bottom of ships to improve vessel stability. The water is taken up as cargo is loaded or unloaded. The LSRI studied ballast water discharges at the Port of Duluth from 10 U.S. and Canadian lakers last year from late summer to early winter; 13 of the 15 discharges sampled contained invasive zooplankton.
The study does not cover whether these species were alive upon discharge or what their chances are for survival in Lake Superior. Nonetheless, the results are being considered as evidence towards the necessity for practical ballast water management solutions. The Chamber of Marine Commerce members and the Lake Carriers’ Association provided support for this research.
Superior’s waters are cold but that doesn’t mean people don’t swim there. They’ve been doing it for a long, long time. As for Lake Michigan, with its more populated shoreline, beaches packed with swimmers have been common for decades.
A June 8th article on Mlive provides a photographic history of swimming in Michigan, on both Lakes Superior and Michigan.
View the historic photogaphs in the MLive article entitled, “See What a Michigan Beach Day Looked Like 100 Years Ago.“
Enjoy swimming the big lakes this summer and stay safe.
Related: May 1st, 2017 Infosuperior post: “Statistics Show Spike in Lake Superior Drownings”
A fascinating presentation about local history related to Lake Superior will take place at 7 p.m. on June 20th at the Schreiber Municipal Complex (gymnasium), 204 Alberta Street, Schreiber, Ontario. Parks Canada is organizing the presentation, which is free of charge. Everyone is welcome.
Local historian Bill Skrepichuk, formerly in charge of engineering at the Red Rock mill, will unveil the history of Lake Superior’s north shore during his presentation. Bill utilizes the schooner “Sligo” to illustrate 1880’s North Shore life. The vessel’s comings and goings, its cargoes, crews, and adventures, provide a direct connection to the late eighteen hundreds, including the world around Schreiber. Bill is a captivating, colourful speaker with a thorough knowledge of North Shore history.
Built in 1884, the “Home Insurance Building” in Chicago is considered the World’s first skyscraper. It was built from stone quarried at Vert Island on Nipigon Bay, carried there by the schooner “Sligo” and others like her.
The Schooner “Sligo” serviced construction efforts of the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) as early as 1876 and 1883-84, hauling machinery, engines, rails and iron, dynamite, timber, coal, and food supplies along the north shore of Lake Superior. The Sandstone she carried from Vert Island in Nepigon Bay [spelling for “Nipigon” at the time] to Chicago, in the 1883 and 1884 era, was used in many of the original “Windy City” skyscrapers such as the “Home Insurance Building.” This stone was also used in many Chicago brownstone homes built there during the late 1880’s; homes which still stand today.
Bill’s talk will bring north shore residents back through time, igniting passion and excitement for local nautical history and increasing respect for Superior and those who sailed it. Plan to attend.
- Parks Canada event poster
- Link to Parks Canada post about the presentation
- November 21, 2013 Infosuperior Article – Superior Islands Stone: The Story of the Nepigon River Bridge
- Town of Schreiber History
Go directly to the poster providing details about the June 9th session at Cloud Lake.
In recent years user groups and resource managers have noted declining ecosystem conditions in Cloud Lake. A decline in water quality has been observed as indicated by algal blooms, increased turbidity, and elevated phosphorus concentration. It was noted in the report “Cloudy Conditions: The State of Cloud Lake and the Cloud River Watershed” that part of this decline can be attributed to man-made conditions including septic systems and degraded conditions along the shoreline.
The Thunder Bay District Stewardship Council has received funding from the MOECC to provide a program that will provide homeowners with a voluntary inspection of their septic system to provide information and identify any potential changes that could reduce the impact on Cloud Lake water quality. These inspections will not be shared with anyone other than the homeowner. If a septic system has need of improvement a homeowner will be able to access funding for a portion of the necessary replacement or repair costs. Participation in the program is completely voluntary and it is hoped that we can begin to move forward with a strategy for protecting and improving the water quality in Cloud Lake.
Everyone is welcome to the June 9th session and there is no charge. A light lunch will be provided.