7/31/15

Friday Foto: What's in YOUR aquarium?

If you are shopping for aquarium pets and plants, don't forget to think about whether you are buying invasive species. Dave Cozzolino, owner of Wilmette Pet Center in Wilmette, Ill., has a supply of brochures that encourage aquarium owners to purchase non-invasive alternatives to aquatic invasive mollusks, like snails, clams, and mussels. If your pet store isn't well-stocked with information, you can find out more about aquatic invasive species and responsible pet ownership on our AIS webpage about organisms in trade.

7/29/15

Teachers teaching teachers about the Great Lakes

Teachers participate in the mock oil spill activity.
IISG Environmental Educator Kirsten Hope Walker didn’t take it easy on  the teachers in the audience at the 3rd Annual Beginning Teacher STEM Conference this morning at the I Hotel in Champaign, Ill. The conference is focused on helping new teachers prepare students to compete in science, technology, engineering, math, and even the art fields in the global economy.

Walker began her session with a pop quiz testing the teachers on their knowledge of the Great Lakes.

“Don’t worry about being wrong,” she assured them. “Nobody is expecting a geographer!”

The teachers, who were from throughout Illinois, got a crash course on issues concerning the Great Lakes, like pollution, aquatic invasive species, and water depletion.

Walker also had the teachers take part in a mock oil spill clean-up activity, one they could use in their own classrooms. 

Fifth-grade teacher Carol Cofer recognized immediately how she would use the material with her students at McCleery Elementary school in Aurora, Ill.

IISG educator Kirsten Hope Walker leads the class.
“These lessons will help me to bring relevance to the student,”Cofer said. “Instead of talking about some ocean somewhere, we’re talking about Lake Michigan, which is right in our backyard.”

The goal of the workshop for Walker was to encourage Great Lakes literacy and understanding through education.  

“Once you love something,” Walker said, “you’re going to take care of it and advocate for it.”
-Abigail Bobrow

7/27/15

In three words




On July 18 the Lake Michigan Shipboard Science Workshop wrapped up a week of non-stop research and exploration aboard the R/V Lake Guardian. The educators and researchers also made time for stops at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc and Sleeping Bear Dunes in Frankfort, Mich.

At the end of the workshop, each group of teacher-scientists gave presentations of their research. The great clarity and confidence with which each team was able to describe their project was a true testament to how much they learned throughout the week.

The educators communicated their research questions, methods, and results so articulately that I finally understood what had been going on all week right under my nose.

One scientific process, finding soluble reactive phosphorus, was described by Indiana teacher John Gensic in two minutes to a room full of nodding heads, visibly following along—and understanding—the intricate procedure.

When we asked the educators to summarize their week in three words for this video, it was evident as they struggled to distill the experience down to such a limited depiction, just how much they had learned and grown.

A lot of the comments were centered on how cohesively the group worked as a team. Also prevalent was the realization that true science is “messy” with the need to adapt, given that real-life science doesn’t always work out exactly how it was initially drawn up.

I found it incredibly rewarding to hear the teachers say that working side-by-side with Great Lakes researchers actually bolstered their confidence as scientists and science educators—though they admitted they were intimidated at first.

There was a lot of two-way dialogue during the week, with educators suggesting practical adjustments to the scientific procedures they had just been introduced two days previously.

I look forward to the amazing classroom adaptations and stewardship projects that are already being planned by the workshop participants in collaboration with their new scientist cohorts.

Educators Liz McCheyne, Mike Mathis, and Suzi Hoffman had these parting words in their final blog post.

“With this in mind, we will return to our classrooms all over the Great Lakes region to share our new knowledge and expanded hearts as we teach students, colleagues, family, and friends to be scientifically literate citizens of our planet and good stewards of the Great Lakes.”

Allison Neubauer is part of the education team at IISG. She helped coordinate the overall logistics and planned the shore excursions.

7/24/15

Friday Foto: Take the Chicago Water Walk

DuSable Harbor is one stop along the way on the Chicago Water Walk app, a tour of the city's beautiful downtown lakefront. Whether you are interested in the Chicago River, Navy Pier, the Museum Campus, or marinas in between, you can enhance your view by reading historical, ecological, engineering, and just fun facts about Chicago.

7/23/15

The Aquatic Nuisance Species Hotline is no longer taking calls

 The round goby is a Great Lakes AIS originally from Eurasia.
Those of you in the habit of spotting and reporting aquatic invasive species (AIS) to the Aquatic Nuisance Species Hotline are going to have to try something different.

The toll-free hotline, started by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1999, is being phased out.

It was a popular resource when it first came out, but now that states have developed their own reporting systems, the calls have just been trickling in—as few as five a month.

But even though there has been an increase in state call centers and online reporting sites, the hotline is not being shut down without an alternative national operating system.

Now you can report AIS sightings at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Online Sighting Report Form at usgs.gov/STOPANS

Find out more about aquatic invasive species and their impact on the Great Lakes at http://iiseagrant.org/topic_ais.php.

7/21/15

Illinois releases strategy to reduce nutrient pollution in the Gulf

Illinois may be hundreds of miles from the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s a key contributor to the “dead zone,” a section of water the size of Connecticut devoid of oxygen that forms every summer. The culprit is millions of pounds of nutrients from farm fields, city streets and wastewater treatment plants entering the Gulf each year through the Mississippi River system.

Now, the state has just released a plan—the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy—to keep those nutrients out of the water.

The collaborative effort began almost two years ago in response to the federal 2008 Gulf of Mexico Action Plan, which calls for all 12 states in the Mississippi River Basin to develop plans to reduce nutrient losses to the Gulf. The process was spearheaded by the Illinois EPA and the Department of Agriculture and facilitated by Illinois Water Resources Center (IWRC) and Illinoi-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG).

“It’s the most comprehensive and integrated approach to nutrient loss reduction in the state’s history,” says Brian Miller, director of IISG and IWRC. “But what really sets the plan apart is how it was developed. Government agencies, agricultural producers and commodity groups, non-profit organizations, scientists, and wastewater treatment professionals were all at the table working together to create this strategy.”

The approach outlines a set of voluntary and mandatory practices for both urban and agricultural sources for reducing the primary drivers of the algal blooms that lower oxygen levels—phosphorus and nitrogen. By targeting the most critical areas and building on existing state and industry programs, these practices are expected to ultimately reduce the amount of nutrients reaching Illinois waterways by 45 percent.

Led by researchers at the University of Illinois, the study uncovered numerous cost-effective practices for reducing nutrient losses. At the heart of the strategy is a scientific assessment that used state and federal data to calculate Illinois’ current nutrient losses and determine where they’re coming from.

The plan for wastewater treatment plants is relatively straightforward. The state had already begun to cap the amount of phosphorus they are allowed to release, restrictions that will likely be expanded under the new plan. The strategy also calls for sewage plants to investigate new treatment technologies that could lower phosphorus levels enough to prevent algal blooms in nearby waterways.

For farmers and others working in agriculture, the options are a little broader. Most of the recommended practices, such as installing buffer strips along stream banks to filter runoff, planting cover crops to absorb nutrients and adjusting nitrogen-fertilizing practices have been used successfully in Illinois for years.

“There is no silver bullet for reducing nutrients,” said Mark David, a University of Illinois biogeochemist and one of the researchers behind the scientific assessment. “It is going to take at least one new management practice on every acre of agricultural land to meet the state’s reduction goals.”

7/20/15

GreatLakesMud.org website cleans up


Great Lakes Information Network awarded the July Site of the Month to GreatLakesMud.org.

IISG created the site to disseminate information and provide resources to promote sediment cleanup and habitat restoration in Areas of Concern.

The website was made possible by the Great Lakes Legacy Act, a program that, as of 2015, has cleaned up 2.9 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment through 17 remediation projects. 

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