Month: March 2021

Paige’s Pick: Being the change – Live well and spark a climate revolution

Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution: Kalmus, Peter:  9780865718531: Books - Amazon.ca
Available from Chapters/Indigo (link) or your local book retailer.

With spring lurking around the corner, this time of year is often a time for rejuvenation whether it be spring cleaning, gardening, or dusting off the running shoes to start running in the nice weather. As March 22nd, is World Water day, this is a day where I like to dedicate some time for reflection on my impacts on the earth. Being the Change – Live well and spark a climate revolution is a story and recipe about how an astrophysicist turned into a climate scientist and altered his lifestyle to emit as few carbon emissions as possible.

Peter Kalmus lives in California and while some of his suggestions may not work quite as well in Thunder Bay’s cool climate. For example, I would love to be able to pick an avocado from a tree in my backyard, but our climate simply isn’t suitable for growing avocados. Kalmus also suggests trying cycling as a main form of transportation and the cold winters are not very conductive to cycling in and around Thunder Bay. I tried cycled throughout the winter for my first two years living in Thunder Bay, and it was no walk in the park. It is doable if you’re really dedicated, but you will need to dress appropriately and be willing to ride close to traffic as the roads shrink due to the snowbanks, and bike lanes are not typically cleared in the winter. I would also suggest giving your bike a regular cleaning as the winter can be quite harsh on a bike (a lesson I learned the hard way). Bike commuting can be incredibly rewarding and I encourage anyone to try a bike commute whether it be to work, to meet a friend, or to pick up a few things from the grocery store, it’s a great way to get your physical activity in while also crossing something off your to-do list.

This book offers the scientific background on what is happening to the climate and the major role humans play. The book goes beyond telling readers to stop flying and to start composting. Kalmus addresses some of the deeper reasons for why we behave the way we do. Our addiction to growth in a finite world has led us to crave novelty and comfort and resulted in a projected grim future. There are lots of great actions presented throughout the book that people can take to lower their footprint. From quitting flying to composting, to growing your own food, to cycling as your main form of transportation, to humanure, to creating a community passionate about leaving as little as a footprint as possible.

Being the change questions the sustainability of the way privileged people live. The ideas and actions presented throughout this book are not applicable to every human on Earth. The book is addressed to people who can afford to fly, own cars, own a house with a yard, and are fixated on accumulating more “stuff” that is not essential to their survival. One stat from the book that stood out was “globally, only about 5% of humans have ever flown” (p 151). This sounded shocking to me at first, because the majority of the people I know to fly on a yearly basis. In 2015, Oxfam came out with a study which found that the richest 10% of people globally emit 49% of global emissions. This book may not be applicable to everyone on Earth, but I don’t think that was the author’s purpose. He wanted to write a book addressed to the world’s top emitters. COVID-19 has offered many people a forced break from their typical travel patterns, which has had short-term benefits on air and water quality. Many people are itching to get their travel fix again, but maybe instead of hopping on the next flight, you can embrace continue to explore closer to home and reduce your carbon footprint. This book is a must-read and addresses some of the ignorance in society that has led us to global climate change and inequality. Next time you want to buy something question whether you really need it.


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Fish Productivity – explaining environmental issues through the lens of fish

Haley MacLeod out in the field

Haley is a Ph.D. student from Echo Bay, ON who is working under Dr. Michael Rennie at Lakehead University. She did her undergrad and masters at Trent University where she worked on cancer research. But Haley realized that she wanted to prevent people from getting sick by studying contaminants in the environment. Her interest in environmental toxicology sparked a conversation with Dr. Rennie which led her to where she is now. Haley’s doctoral research focuses on understanding the impact of microplastics of fish productivity and using long-term fish and ecosystem data at the IISD-Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA) to develop new time- and cost- effective methods to monitor freshwater fish health.

Microplastics are a common household name. They’re the tiny pieces of plastics that break down from larger pieces that can be found nearly anywhere on earth. Haley is looking to see how microplastics impact fish productivity. The experiment runs in the fish lab at Lakehead University where Haley has 24 tanks. Fish eggs from the Dorion fish hatchery are exposed to various levels of microplastics that represent current concentrations and concentrations that are expected to be found 50 years from now. The fish will be exposed to three different types of microplastics that mimic the different types of microplastics in the environment to represent how different plastics accumulate within the water column. Each of the plastics have different buoyancies. One of the plastics floats on the surface, one is suspended within the water column and the other plastic sinks to the bottom. She is also exposing the fish to a wide range of sizes to mimic the way plastics accumulate in the environment.

Fertilized fish eggs

People understand the physical ingestion of microplastics and how that can harm fish, but there is a lack of understanding of how the chemicals that are added to plastics influence freshwater ecosystems. Haley is looking at both the physical and chemical impacts that microplastics have on fish productivity. Chemicals such as UV stabilizers, antioxidants, and others such as BPA, but her research focuses on UV stabilizers and antioxidants which are additives that prevent the breakdown and colour leaching in plastics. These chemicals have been deemed as a chemical of emerging concern from Environment Canada. They are finding them in high concentrations in sediments and also aquatic ecosystems. There is a lack of understanding of how these chemicals interact with the environment, but research has shown that these chemicals have the ability to bioaccumulate and have the potential for endocrine-disrupting effects which is concerning. The fish eggs in the tanks are being exposed to microplastics which are leaching chemicals into the water. Haley wants to understand what will happen to the developing eggs as they are exposed to these known endocrine-disrupting compounds that bioaccumulate. The eggs will eventually hatch and start feeding and this will allow her to look at how the chemicals impact development. Once the fish start feeding, Haley will look at how the physical ingestion of microplastics impacts the growth, development, and mortality of the fish. From there she will use recruitment models, which is the number of individuals which successfully make it into a population to see how microplastics will impact productivity over time

Larval fish in the microplastics experiment

Haley expects to see that once the larval fish start to eat, they will interact and ingest plastics that are positively buoyant, and this affects their growth rate. Her study is part of a mesocosm study at the IISD-ELA. Mesocosms are a way to study lakes without exposing the entire lake to see how these mini ecosystems respond to the same plastics in Haley’s tank study. Through her research, she will be able to answer some fundamental questions about microplastic toxicity which is lacking in freshwater ecosystems.

The remainder of Haley’s research is working with long-term data at the IISD-ELA. ELA is a world-renowned research facility located in northwestern Ontario that’s close to Dryden that’s comprised of 58 lakes with long-term data on fish populations, and various metrics within the lakes themselves. It’s one of the only places in the world with such comprehensive long-term freshwater data where you can properly calculate estimates of fish production. At ELA, you can also experimentally manipulate, which offers unique research opportunities.

Haley is using long-term data to study fish productivity which is defined as the amount of tissue elaborated per unit time per unit area. It is a comprehensive metric that incorporates the best fisheries metrics which makes it a sensitive estimate of how fish populations and aquatic ecosystems are doing. It is a metric that has been held on a pedestal in fisheries literature, but there is a lack of information on fish productivity due to time and monetary costs to calculate these estimates. ELA is unique because the datasets are there to calculate estimates to start looking at what environmental variables are driving fish productivity and what variables are correlated with fish production so we can develop new indicators for fish productivity for management and conservation use. The ideal situation will be to have a few different environmental variables that we could go in and easily sample and know that the variables are indicative of fish productivity to say that the fish population is happy or isn’t healthy. Haley is hoping to create a suite of indicators that can determine the health of a fish population and the ecosystem.

Studying freshwater ecosystems and fish is a unique opportunity because it allows researchers to tell the story of climate change or contaminant burden through the lens of fish. Using fish productivity as a metric contextualizes how climate change and pollution are going to impact fishing experiences and food resources for a lot of Canadians. As Canadians we are passionate and culturally linked to fishing and freshwater, so Canadians want to engage in conversations around how trophy size fish are being lost due to climate change, or how microplastics are impacting the survival and growth of their favourite fish. These impacts on fish affect an important cultural pastime and access to food resources, and can spark a change and increased awareness on some of the most pressing issues society is facing.

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Working with Biinjitiwabik Zaaging Anishnabek

Dr. Rob Stewart, from Lakehead University, sat down for an interview to talk about his research and involvement with Biinjitiwabik Zaaging Anishnabek (Rocky Bay First Nation). The official funded partnership began three years ago as part of the First Nations Environmental Contaminants Program (FNECP). Conversations between the community and Lakehead University have been going on for four or five years now with conversations around community plans and the impacts of hydro dams. The relationship began because the Rocky Bay community was interested in knowing the health of the country food, the food they get from the land. The first phase of the research began with a community survey where they engaged with community members and took inventory of what types of food people were eating. The second phase is where the Lakehead team comes in to provide water, sediment, and fish samples from community lands to better understand the risk of food and water contamination. Recently, the local fisherman has started collecting fish for the community to test for contaminants and Lakehead’s role is to show the community how to do biopsies to obtain a sample from the fish. The samples are then brought back to the lab where they undergo testing for metals to provide a picture of the different contaminants and risks associated with different types of fish, not just the fish in sports guides and for non-indigenous communities.

COVID-19 struck the world by storm last March, and the Rocky Bay research was impacted as a result. Thankfully, there were small windows that allowed the team to go out on the land and collect samples throughout the summer and fall albeit with a few delays. There was a lot more angst than a normal research trip due to the protocols and the constant concern of researchers from Thunder Bay entering the community and hopping on a boat to conduct sampling. But with proper preparation, discussion and strong social distancing, sampling during the unconventional 2020 summer was a success.

Been working with Rocky Bay first nation for three years ago as part of a first nations environmental contaminants program. The community was interested in country food and using the food from their lands and wanted to know the health of it. They engaged in a community survey to look at what food people are eating and then we came in to help them in the second phase. We collect water samples, sediment samples, with particular relation to the hydro dams and areas the community was concerned with. Recently the local fisherman in the community has started collecting fish for the community. We’ve shown them how to do biopsies and then we will take the samples back to the lab and do metal testing from fish. They start to get a picture of different types of contaminants and risks with different types of fish, not just the fish that are in sports guides or for non-indigenous communities.

The team at Lakehead plans to be engaged with Rocky Bay First Nation moving into the future. The community as Dr. Stewart says, “is an amazing one”. They have a deep history that goes beyond commercial and subsistence fishing that includes working with governments and surrounding regional agencies to support environmental monitoring. The community is getting back into the history and developing relationships to work address environmental concerns. Lakehead isn’t the only university working with the community. There are others that are helping them to achieve adaptation to change as well as look at other contaminants and environmental issues in the area. Lakehead hopes to be part of that team where they can continue to collect data or move into other data collection or monitoring capacities the community wants to embark on. The direction of the future is letting the community show where they want to go with us and how we can best continue to support them.

The data that is sampled from water, sediments, and fish goes back to the community where they have used the results since the first year of collection. The results are presented in a way that the community is able to use, understand, and make decisions around. The data collected can be applied by the community to have their own understanding from their worldview of the management issues within the community and surrounding areas. The results haven’t revealed anything that people weren’t already aware of. The community wants to fish more, and the results have allowed people to be more conscious of where they fish, and also what species they are fishing and eating. Today, people eat a lot of walleye, but in the past the diet might have been whitefish or a range of fishes. There is a general increased awareness and concern within the community and people are asking questions with a long-term thinking lens with regards to contaminants. Questions such as “If there are contaminants now, what will that look like in the future and how will that impact our subsistence?” are being raised. The commercial fishermen also want to produce fish for people outside of the community and knowing the levels within the fish they’re selling is important. Overall, there is a positive impact from the increased general awareness and the desire to be engaged in fishing and protecting the fish in the community for the present and the future.

Remediation options are complicated. There are still lots of unknowns in the world of remediation. Fish consumption contaminants are cumulative and there are many ways that impact their distribution in the environment. In the 1990s is was thought that contaminants were from point-sources, but contaminants can come from atmospheric and lake-wide sources. There are areas where mercury cleanup has occurred, but the mercury levels continue to skyrocket as a result of atmospheric or watershed sources. Right now, the best approach is to continue to remediate known contaminated sites, but it is still unknown if these efforts will have a positive effect on fish consumption. Increasing awareness of fish consumption restrictions makes the community more concerned with development. Typically, there is little cumulative assessment when constructing a dam. There is a lack of assessment of how one dam impacts other dams from both the past and present. Contaminants accumulate within the environment and remediation takes climate change adaptation thinking where a “Jack of all trades” approach is needed to address everything, everywhere with the hopes that there are fewer contaminants entering the watershed. Increasing awareness and engaging with different communities is one of the ways to further our understanding of remediation and the impacts of legacy contaminants on a community.

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Our Reader’s Response to Questions About Ice Fishing

Back in January I polled our readers with a series of questions about ice fishing. I got a number of different responses from people from all walks of life with all different experience levels. Here are a few of their answers:

How long have you been ice fishing?

People’s ice fishing experience ranged from this year being their first on the ice, to grandparent’s who had been ice fishing for as long as they can remember. Some people’s answers revealed that ice fishing has been an integral part of their life and was something they do every year, others sporadically ice fished, while some were just getting into the sport. Lots of people have been ice fishing since they were kids and it’s been an activity they’ve continued with some even having their own kids they have introduced ice fishing to.

What is your favourite thing about ice fishing?

People’s favourite thing about ice fishing varies. Some liked ice fishing because you can get away from the city and only focus on ice fishing without any other distractions. Others love ice fishing because it’s time to spend with family and friends. Some catch fish for their family and friends. Others love that ice fishing brings them outside and takes them to new places, while others simply like the thrill of driving the snow machine. Some love having a campfire while being on the lake. Others just love the excitement of catching a fish. Overall there is a theme that ice fishing brings people together with friends and family and immerses them in nature, two important factors for our well-being.

What is your least favourite thing about ice fishing?

The overarching thing that people liked least about ice fishing was the cold. Whether it’s forgetting the ice hut, getting cold hands, or feet, or slushy boots — the cold can make it tough. Others miss the feeling of casting the line and physically fishing, while others don’t like when you get skunked (i.e, catch no fish). Others still don’t like the large crowds and people disrespecting the lake by littering and not cleaning up after themselves.

Do you eat the fish you catch?

People typically keep the fish they eat as long as they’re within regulations. Some keep everything they catch and are allowed to keep because fishing is a form of sustenance for their family. While others are pickier and only keep their favourites and release the others. Some decisions on which fish to keep were based on the time of the year and the size of the fish. They let the medium-large to large-sized fish go because they were considered prime spawners and keeping those fish would have a greater impact on the fish population.

If so, what is your favourite type of fish to eat?

Across the board, there was a large preference for walleye. Many said that that walleye was their favourite by a landslide. Lake trout was also popular among respondents. With a few people preferring burbot, whitefish, crappie, and perch. One respondent said his favourite meals to make were your classic fish and chips as well as fish tacos.

Matt, one of the respondents with a Walleye, the favourite fish to eat from our survey responses

Are you concerned about the impacts of climate change on ice fishing?

Overall there was a general concern about the future of ice fishing. This winter had had a low ice-cover and warmer temperatures until the cold-snap at the end of January and early February. Some people mentioned the inconsistency of their favourite ice fishing spots freezing over. This year with its low ice cover meant a lot of the best places to ice fish on Lake Superior weren’t safe to fish on. Other’s major concerns were not with the increasing temperatures, but from pollution and garbage impacting the lakes. The concern of what climate change will mean for fish adapted to cold waters was also a concern. The concern of decreasing ice cover and the safety of traversing the ice was echoed through the responses. Other’s that fish on smaller lakes commented on the thinner ice and that they haven’t had to use their auger extension as much in recent years.

Have you noticed any changes to your ice fishing practice since you started?

Some of the fishers were new to ice fishing and haven’t noticed personal changes. While others commented on the increasing use of technology since they started fishing. From watching the fish on a fish cam to topographic lake maps and the use of sonars to detect fish. These advents in technology have made it easier for individuals to catch fish. There is also increased planning that goes into deciding where to fish based on these technological advances. People acknowledged that there are variations year to year but that in recent years they’ve noted how the climate has changed and ice cover and duration is different than when they were a kid. Some commented on the decreased fish populations that are forcing hard-core anglers to go further out than ideal. There were also responses that ice shacks have gotten a lot bigger over the years.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the survey and sharing some of your ice fishing stories and memories.

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What’s your water footprint?

With World Water Day happening on March 22, I would like to take some time to reflect on the impact we humans have on the environment. The concept of a footprint has been around since the 1990s and started with the ecological footprint which is a measure of how much nature we as humans use compared to how much nature available to us. The ecological footprint is a measure of the area of land and aquatic ecosystems that are needed to support a person or a nation’s lifestyle. Although notions to reduce individuals and countries’ impact has been around for decades, in recent years reducing our impact and changing our actions has gained a louder voice.

Water is an essential resource for life and living in northwestern Ontario can have the perception that there is an abundance of clean water, the reality is that globally accessible clean water is being threatened. Arjen Hoekstra is a researcher who has written numerous papers on the impacts of consumption on an individual’s water footprint.

A person’s water footprint encompasses all the water a person’s lifestyle uses, this includes the domestic use from activities such as flushing toilets, showering, and cleaning, but also includes virtual water which is the water used in making goods and providing services. It accounts for the water involved in producing the products a person consumes; from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, to the cars we drive, all of the water used to produce those goods is included in the water footprint. Water footprints can be calculated on an individual basis but also for a whole industry or country.

The typical Canadian resident uses about 220 L/day of water. This number merely represents the amount from activities that can be measured on a household’s water meter. When you include non-residential uses that rely on municipal sources, the amount of water used per person in Canada increases to around 427 L/day. These numbers don’t reflect what is known as virtual water.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) created this short film that does a great job at providing visuals about how our consumption patterns impact our water footprint.

Here is a calculator to get an estimate of your personal water footprint. No calculator is perfect, but it is a tool you can use to access where your own consumption levels are. You can also change the values and see what happens as you increase or decrease your meat consumption or the number of loads of laundry, or if you utilize only rainwater to water your garden.

Water issues are often looked at on a local or national scale, but water issues are a global issue. The majority of the goods we as Canadians buy are not manufactured in Canada and the materials which go into those products don’t necessarily come from Canada. The majority of the food sold in grocery stores does not come from Canadian soil. Although I wish I could pick avocados while walking to Hillcrest, the Canadian climate is not suitable for the majority of foods we’ve grown accustomed to love. The water volumes measured by municipal water meters underestimates the amount of water needed to support the average Canadian lifestyle.

The water footprint also typically doesn’t account for pollutants added to the water from anthropogenic activities. Polluted waters are a serious problem for people globally. Threats to water supply and water quality are already a global issue and are only expected to increase in severity with time.

Some ways to reduce your water footprint are to conserve water, be conscious of what foods you eat, and consume less. Conservation of water is a free method that can have big collective impacts. Conservation entails reducing the amount of water your household or business uses. This can be a done in a variety of ways from reducing shower times, to installing low-flush toilets, to installing a rain barrel to supply gardening needs. There are many ways a household can look to reduce the amount of water. If you don’t already, make sure to turn off the tap while you brush your teeth, it’s an easy place to start that requires little effort. Another way to reduce your water footprint is to be conscious of what you’re eating. One kilogram of beef requires 15,000 L of water where one kilogram of soybeans requires around 25 L of water. Trying to go meat-less each Monday can be a great way to reduce your impact if you’re used to eating meat every day. There are lots of great vegetarian meals packed with flavor. According to Hoekstra & Chapagain’s (2006) research, the four main factors impacting a country’s water footprint are the volume of consumption, consumption pattern, climate, and agricultural practices. Reducing the overall amount you consume can have a beneficial impact on global water resources even if the results aren’t readily apparent.

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