In the fall of 2020, Tim Hollinger, a Masters’s student in Lakehead’s geography department, went out on Lake Nipigon which you can read about here. The previous trip was restricted due to COVID-19 public health guidelines. This year, in June 2021, Tim along with Nathan and Dr. Stewart went out again for another round of sampling. The group included two fish biologists, Erica from Nokiiwin Tribal Council looking at microplastics, community fishermen, and the Lakehead geography team which looked at sediment cores.
Lakehead’s geography department has been working with Rocky Bay (BZA) since 2016 focusing on work with the First Nations Environmental Contaminants Program. The area has a long history with hydrological development from gold to forestry, the watershed is littered with dams from its industrious past. The community is invested in the revitalization of its waters and conducting its own environmental monitoring. First Nations communities have historically been excluded from development planning and the potential impacts of said development on the environment. The community’s main concern revolves around contaminants in fish which directly impact their country foods and sustenance. The goal is to build the communities capacity to conduct its own monitoring. This gives them to autonomy to know what’s happening on the land and to be able to go to the government and engage in conversation. The goal is to have community members collecting the samples and have Lakehead’s role move to an off-hand position where they provide lab analysis. COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in the team’s ability to conduct research the way they planned, but this summer, the team got out and made the most of what they could given the restrictions.
This trip the team focused on 5 to 6 southern bays which were identified by community fishermen, a father-son duo, who also accompanied the research team on their week-long trip. Unlike last year where the crew slept on the floor of the boat, this trip they had the opportunity to take out the community’s new boat where the living accommodations were quite nice. At each spot, the goal was to catch 3 walleye and to take sediment cores and water samples. Despite Lake Nipigon size, there are still no bathymetry maps of Lake Nipigon. Each bay had unique characteristics that made each bay like its own little lake. Throughout the trip, the team constantly looked for ways to make things fun and engaging. After they finished collecting their deepwater samples for analysis, they would take another sample from 80 feet down and drink from the deep cool water.
Some of the highlights from the trip for Tim were seeing the different landscapes of Lake Nipigon. It’s a relatively remote lake and getting to experience the lake with a local community is something Tim will forever be great full for. The team was sampling a lot of fish and as a result, they had a group of about 30 pelicans following their boat throughout the trip. The trip happened during the summer solstice so days were often spent working until 10 and having a fish fry at midnight. The father-son duo, Abe and Adam, were also phenomenal storytellers that made the time enjoyable and flyby.
The trip was amazing and overall smooth sailing (motoring), but the team did face a couple of challenges along the way. In certain areas, it was tough to get sediment cores and find the representative sediment. Clay and silt are where contaminants accumulate and in such a big lake with lots of energy, it was challenging at times to find a spot with a good silt and clay layer. The contaminants program ideally needed 30 Walleye from each spot, but sometimes they couldn’t get the 30 walleye in the time they had and wound up with 15-20. It was the boat’s maiden voyage and some technical issues arose, but Abe and Adam worked vigilantly to problem solve and keep things on schedule. Like any trip or research endeavor, more time would always be nice, but the team made the most of the time they had. The team plans to head out at the end of the summer to conquer the north and east side of Lake Nipigon.