In the news: Lake Michigan water level a complex issue

Tourism, boating, and business are all affected by the water level in Lake Michigan, which is currently lower than average. But the question of what to do about the water level, if anything, involves a number of complex factors.

From The Holland Sentinel:
"The International Upper Great Lakes Study board released the results last week of a $14.6 million, five-year study on water levels. The report advises against using man-made structures to adjust water levels in Lake Michigan.

'Not surprisingly, public concerns about water levels in the upper Great Lakes differ considerably depending on geographic location,' the group said in a news release." 
Read the complete article at The Holland Sentinel.


Illinois Department of Natural Resources schedules educator workshop on invasive plants

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has a number of upcoming events for the spring and summer listed on their website, and one of them is an opportunity for teachers of 6-12 grade students to learn about invasive exotic plants. Like more commonly known invasive species such as Asian Carp, invasive plants have the potential to harm or seriously alter existing environments and landscapes, including lakes, rivers, and streams.

The Invasive Exotic Plants ENTICE Workshop will provide teachers with basic information about invasive plants, some common problem plants and how to identify them, and a tour around the grounds of the Illinois Audubon Society to look for and identify invasive plants.

The workshop takes place at the Illinois Audubon Society Headquarters in Springfield, IL, May 19. Complete details including contact and registration information is available at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources event calendar page.


Illinois Natural History Survey now hiring for a new outreach position

The Illinois Natural History Survey, part of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois, has a new position available for an outreach specialist. The right applicant will have a Master's degree in a relevant field, and will work on developing and distributing messaging related to Organisms in Trade (animals and plants that have the potential to become invasive species if not properly managed).

For complete details about the position, including requirements, duties, work schedule, and more, visit the complete listing at the University of Illinois' Job Board. This position will be located in the Chicago area.


NOAA and FEMA partner to Build a Weather-Ready Nation

Natural weather cycles, extreme conditions, and other issues can arise anywhere, and particularly in areas near coastlines. Residents near rivers and lakes are often aware of the potential for season flooding and other weather concerns, but may not be fully prepared for all of the possibilities. Additionally, each area of the country has the potential for unique weather concerns, such as flooding or tornadoes here in the Midwest.

As part of a campaign to Build a Weather-Ready Nation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are joining forces with Sea Grant programs across the country. The campaign invites everyone to Be a Force of Nature by taking certain steps that can help you and your community be prepared for inclement weather and the dangers associated with weather events.

Some important steps taken now can make a big difference later, including: 

Knowing your risk – Being aware of impending weather events and aware of risks associated with areas you live and work in (i.e. potential flooding, tornadoes, strong winds, etc.)

Take action – Develop an emergency plan that the whole family knows about. This can include information such as where to meet in the event of an emergency, ways to stay in contact with one another, and other important details. 

Be a Force of Nature – Once you have a plan, share the information, resources, and more with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and anyone else. You can visit the links above and share information directly from those Facebook pages, as well as spreading the word through other means. Sharing these simple steps with others is one great way to help everyone stay safe.

For more information on the campaign to Build a Weather-Ready Nation, read the NOAA press release about the week, which includes tons of useful links to more information and resources. You can also visit FEMA’s Ready.Gov website with information, resources, and details about how to develop an emergency plan and how to ensure that your family is safe even when the weather isn’t.


Sea Grant message reaches many thousands in Times Square — The Movie

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s new video celebrates the program’s recent opportunity to raise awareness about safe disposal of unused medicine in one of the biggest venues possible - Times Square! 

In partnership with the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Sea Grant program created a 15-second public service announcement that aired on the CBS JumboTron “Super Screen” on 42nd St. in New York City from late December through March.

An estimated 500,000 people go through Times Square every day, and one million people crowded the streets at midnight last New Year’s Eve.

The focus of the Times Square message was to not flush medicines. For years, the recommendation was to do just that - but now we know that these chemicals can end up in lakes, rivers, and often our drinking water. The best solution right now is to take your unwanted or expired medicines to a collection event in your area where they will be safely and properly disposed of.

If you are looking for a take-back program, you are in luck. On Saturday, April 28, the Drug Enforcement Administration will host another nationwide medicine take-back. You can drop off your expired or unwanted medications from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the nearest collection location. Read more on our medicine disposal blog RX for Action.

To learn more about this issue and find helpful resources, visit our new website, www.unwantedmeds.org.


Safe medicine disposal and more highlights from Purdue University's SpringFest

IISG's Laura Kammin was in West Lafayette, IN last weekend for Purdue University's annual SpringFest - an opportunity for students and the community to come together and experience just some of the interesting science and outreach work being done by the University and related organizations. Laura was kind enough to share with us some of the great activities and events that were a part of the weekend.

"Where else could you find an electric vehicle Grand Prix, puppet making, SimMan, cockroach racing, honey tasting, "bunny fencing", and a medicine collection event all in one place? Only at Purdue SpringFest!

During this year’s SpringFest, IISG partnered with the Purdue College of Pharmacy, Purdue Police Department and West Lafayette Police Department to host a medicine collection event. Despite the rain, 24 people dropped off more than 43 pounds of medicine. Students from the Purdue Chapter of the SnPHA also collected anonymous data as medicines were being turned in, including what was being returned and why participants were returning it. This information will help doctors, pharmacists, and researchers understand why people do not take all of their medicine, and could ultimately lead to a reduction in medicines entering the environment. 

Across campus, IISG also partnered with staff and students from their host Department of Forestry and Natural Resources (FNR) to run both the “Stop Asian Carp in its Tracks” bean bag game and the “Stop, Droplet, and Roll in Pollution” game. In addition to perfecting their Corn Toss skills, beanbag game participants learned about the effects Asian carp can have on aquatic ecosystems, and ways to control the spread of this and other invasive species. Early risers were also able to see a live silver carp, caught in the Wabash River by members of the Purdue Subunit of the American Fisheries Society. Young and old alike enjoyed the chance to don a “magical” vest and roll along like a drop of water, collecting “pollutants” and learning about their unintended side effects should they reach lakes or rivers. Participants were particularly struck by the way some pollutants skew sex ratios of wild fish and amphibians, and asked what to do with unwanted medicines. The best answer of the day could have been, “Take it all until it’s done”, but the next best answer was, “Take it to a collection event.”

Pictured above are faculty and students from Purdue College of Pharmacy and Officer Moore of the Purdue PD. The students were involved in cataloging the medicines that were brought in as well as giving a survey to participants of the medicine take-back. Thanks to the help of everyone involved, it was a great success and a terrific addition to the SpringFest activities.


In the news: Wind power from beyond the waves

The Great Lakes provide a great many things for millions of people, and there could be a new item added to that impressive list - Wind Power. 

Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan is preparing to place a floating research buoy in Lake Michigan to help gather the data needed to determine whether an offshore wind farm in the lake could be feasible and effective. 

From NPR:  
"Arn Boezaart heads the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center. Last year the center operated the buoy only 4 miles offshore. This year it’ll collect first of its kind data that’ll likely determine whether an offshore wind farm is viable in the middle of Lake Michigan. 

Boezaart says there was a lot more interest in offshore wind data when the project began two-and-a-half years ago." 
Head over to the NPR Blog for the complete article.


In the news: Asian Carp found in Lake Okoboji proves the further action is needed

Asian Carp have been found in significant enough quantities to be netted in Iowa's Lake Okoboji. The discovery of the invasive species in a significant commercial and vacation destination further exemplifies the potential risk that the species can pose to the Great Lakes.

From the Des Moines Register:
“Our greatest fear is that these fish could impact recreation and the ecology of the lakes,” said state fisheries biologist Mike Hawkins of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Tourism is a $213 million business in the area, known as the Iowa Great Lakes.

The discovery adds pressure to a yearlong effort to build an electric barrier to keep Asian carp out of the lakes."
For the complete article, visit The Des Moines Register website


Indiana officials working to save some Great Lakes history

The Great Lakes, and Lake Michigan specifically, are valuable in a wide range ways. In addition to the unique habitats they provide to numerous species, and the drinking water that millions of people draw from them, the Great Lakes have been valuable and vital paths for transportation and travel. A great deal of cultural and historical information and artifacts lie just beneath the surface of the Lakes, and Indiana is working to save some of that heritage.

From the Northwest Indiana Times: 
"Indiana's movement to preserve its underwater history began in the 1980s when salvagers attempted to raise the wreck of the J.D. Marshall, which sank in 1911 off the shore of the Dunes State Park. Federal and state laws followed in the 1980s, protecting the shipwrecks from salvage operations by imposing fines and imprisonment for looting and vandalism.
 You can read the complete article here


In the news: Electric barrier keeping Asian Carp at bay

From the Green Bay Press Gazette: 
"One live Asian carp has been found across an electric fish barrier in Chicago, and genetic material from carp also have been found in waters beyond the barrier, but there is no indication any sizeable population of the fish has breached the barrier, said John Goss, director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality's Asian Carp."
Read the complete article at the Green Bay Press Gazette, and get copies of our Asian Carp watch card (pictured above) here


Illinois Natural History Survey hiring Clean Boats Crew Site Leaders for the summer

The Illinois Natural History Survey, Prairie Research Institute, and the University of Illinois are expanding the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! program by hiring Clean Boats Crew site leaders for the summer.

Clean Boats Crew site leaders will work in Lake and Cook Counties, IL, and Lake, Porter, and LaPorte Counties, IN, educating the public about aquatic invasive species and how these species are unintentionally spread. Site leaders will manage a team of volunteers and be supervised by a program coordinator.

These positions are an excellent opportunity to gain experience while being directly involved in education and outreach to an audience that will be crucial in helping prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

For complete details on these positions, as well as the information you need to apply, visit the Illinois Natural History Survey job posting.


GLRRIN Lake Michigan partners examine future of Lake Michigan food webs

The term “food web” is used to describe the intricate relationships between the many different plants, animals, and organisms that can exist in small or large areas. Understanding food webs in specific environmental locations, such as in one or more of the Great Lakes, can help researchers and communities better respond to changes in those delicate systems. Invasive species are just one example of a potential influence that can drastically alter a food web and have substantial impacts on native environments.

On April 3 and 4, 2012, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) and GLRRIN Lake Michigan partners from Wisconsin Sea Grant (WISG), Michigan Sea Grant, the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, the US EPA Great Lakes National Program Office, and the USGS Great Lakes Science Center hosted a research meeting in Ann Arbor, MI. Approximately 60 researchers from federal, state, university, tribal, and non-profit organizations gathered to discuss their current understanding of food webs in Lake Michigan. Food web structure and function can be affected by many variables, including changes in water temperature, water quality, and/or habitat loss. Recent aquatic invaders, including zebra and quagga mussels, have drastically altered the Lake Michigan ecosystem, leaving researchers with new questions about what variables most affect commercial and recreational fishing, bird populations, non-toxic algal blooms, and overall quality of life for humans and animals. 

GLRRIN Lake Michigan hosted a similar meeting in 2008,  which helped launch the 2010 Lake Michigan Intensive Monitoring Field Year. Findings presented during the 2012 meeting highlight the inherent variability of Lake Michigan, especially in areas that are less than 20 m deep. Researchers also stressed the need to further understand how the lowest levels of the food chain, such as microbes and nutrient cycling, operate. Understanding these basic levels will help create better tools for decision makers like fishery managers or watershed planning committees. A full report on the meeting presentations and discussions will be made available through the GLRRIN Lake Michigan and IISG websites.


IISG reaches hundreds at National Science Teacher Association Conference

IISG Associate Director for Education Robin Goettel, Education Specialist Terri Hallesy, AIS Specialist Sarah Zack, and AIS Assistant Danielle Hilbrich attended the National Science Teacher Association’s 2012 Conference March 29-31, and got a tremendous response to the educational resources, tips, and information they offered to the many teachers in attendance.

“We had a fabulous turnout of over 5,000 classroom teachers and informal educators at the NOAA-Ecosystems booth,” said Robin Goettel, “which featured our Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant outreach and education resources on Great Lakes aquatic invasive species and marine invaders.”

 Visitors learned about how the “Nab the Aquatic Invader” website can be used as an excellent learning tool for grades 4-10, and how the GLRI “Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers” education and outreach initiative informs people what they can do to prevent the spread of aquatic “hitchhikers.” They also distributed brochures on Great Lakes Literacy principles, and CD-ROM copies of the COSEE/Sea Grant “Fresh and Salt” curriculum on important Great Lakes and marine issues.

Danielle adds, “Our table was located in the NOAA booth on a very busy corner in their ecosystem section and had an extensive amount of traffic throughout the conference.  Our outreach materials included  the brand new “Don’t Let It Loose” poster, which promotes the safe disposal of classroom organisms.”

 The “Don’t Let It Loose” poster contains helpful information for teachers about properly disposing of unwanted classroom organisms. Smaller “tip-card” versions of the poster were available too, as well as an adoption pledge containing care tips for students and their families to use when adopting a classroom organism. Some of the highlights at the IISG table were the specimens available for teachers to look at, including a zebra mussel-encrusted shoe, which was a great catalyst to engage teachers in conservation about invasive species.

The response and turnout for the event were fantastic, and the event was instrumental in helping IISG spread the word about these important issues. The booth at the conference would not have been possible without the invitation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and information and products provided and developed by U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and NOAA Sea Grant’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program.

The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant AIS outreach team is part of the Illinois Natural History Survey's Lake Michigan Biological Station in Zion.


Study examines community perceptions of river remediation

Communication is a crucial part of any project, and especially one as significant as cleaning up an ecosystem that has been deemed an Area of Concern. One of those AOCs is the Sheboygan River, and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Environmental Social Scientist Caitie McCoy has been very involved in the remediation project, working with and reaching out to the communities that live near and rely on the river in a variety of ways.

To better understand community views and concerns about the river and the river cleanups going on this summer, several interviews were conducted with local stakeholders. The findings and resulting recommendations are presented in a qualitative study put together by Caitie and Ada Morgan, entitled “A Scoping Exercise to Understand Community Perceptions of Contaminated Sediment Remediation in the Sheboygan River Area of Concern.” You can download and read the entire study here.

The Sheboygan AOC cleanup, and the work that Caitie and others have done to involve and inform communities, is possible because of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Great Lakes Legacy Act, and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant


Medicine Disposal Event coming up April 14th

Purdue University’s Spring Fest features tons of great learning activities, and will also feature a medicine collection event this year. From the Unwanted Meds website:
“Come to Purdue Spring Fest in West Lafayette, IN, on April 14 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to drop off your expired or unwanted medicines for proper disposal…The collection will accept over-the-counter and prescription medicines, including controlled substances...
After you've stopped by the medicine collection event check out the other great activities to be found at Spring Fest. This free event is a great way for families to learn about animals, art, astronomy, and much more.”
Read the complete post and find additional details and information at the Unwanted Meds Blog


Environmentally friendly boating keeps waterways blue and beautiful

Our friends at New Jersey Sea Grant have some great tips about safe, clean, environmentally friendly things that every boater can do to help the environment while preparing their watercraft for the season. And while there are some differences in conditions between the east coast and our Midwestern lakes and rivers, there are a number of steps that are universally good for protecting the outdoors.

In the Midwest, most boats spend the winter in storage, and when spring arrives they need fresh oil and hydraulic fluids for a season full of trouble-free operation. As with the oil in your car, keeping those fluids from contaminating the water and the ground is important. Auto parts stores, marine supply shops and garages, and even major retailers throughout Illinois and Indiana will collect used oil and hydraulic fluids for recycling free of charge. Likewise, batteries that have been sitting for extended periods of time may need to be replaced, and the old batteries can be recycled at a number of stores. Many retailers will recycle your old battery for you when you purchase a new one from them.

Boats that have been stored for extended periods will usually need a good cleaning as well before taking them to the water. Before you get out the cleaning supplies or buy new ones, look into the many options available for biodegradable and environmentally friendly cleaning products. There are a wide range of safe and effective products that are natural or biodegradable, and they will keep your boat, trailer, and equipment looking great.

Head over to the New Jersey Sea Grant page for more tips on how you can prepare for boating season and protect the environment at the same time. 


University of Wisconsin hosts Science Expeditions event April 14

The University of Wisconsin-Madison will be hosting their 10th annual UW Madison Science Expeditions on Saturday, April 14. Adults, students, and families are all welcome to participate in the day’s events, which offer a variety of exhibitions, demonstrations, and hands-on learning opportunities for all ages.

Several Exploration Stations will each offer unique subjects for learning and discovery, from glowing bacteria that share the water with squids, to the flow properties of chocolate (sure to be a favorite station for everyone in attendance), to some hands-on time with common and uncommon reptiles and amphibians.

Additionally, several Science Spectaculars including videos and presentations will cover topics from dinosaur discoveries to the solar system.

Visit the website for complete details and schedule, and if you’re in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, April 14, plan to stop by for a day filled with lots of learning activities. 


New website provides guidance on properly disposing of unwanted medicines

What happens to prescription or over-the-counter medicines that are brought home, but for one reason or another, never get used? Medicines that are flushed or tossed in the trash can end up in lakes, rivers, and even in our drinking water, posing a risk to people, animals, and the environment.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and University of Illinois Extension have developed a new website, www.unwantedmeds.org, to encourage people to properly dispose of their expired or unneeded medicines.

“This site helps you find a local medicine collection program, provides tips on how to dispose of medicine if there isn’t a collection program nearby, guides communities on how to start a new collection program, and explains why flushing medications down the sink or toilet can be bad for people and the environment,” said Laura Kammin, IISG pollution prevention specialist.

Medicine disposal has come to be an emerging concern in recent years because numerous studies have shown significant traces of pharmaceuticals in U.S. waterways and in drinking water. The long term effects are not known, but scientists have documented impacts to aquatic wildlife.

“The advice used to be to flush unwanted medicines, but it’s clear that flushing medicines or throwing them in the trash contributes to the problem,” said Laura Kammin, IISG pollution prevention specialist.

Right now the best solution is to find a medicine collection program in your area. IISG works with communities to develop local medicine collection programs, some of which are ongoing and some are one-day events. Through workshops and the IISG toolkit, the program provides information and support so that these efforts are safe and successful.

In addition to information on collection programs, www.unwantedmeds.org provides resources for teachers and other educators who want to engage students on this topic, including curricula and examples of service-learning projects.

Contact IISG Pollution Prevention Specialist Laura Kammin for more information on the program, and visit the new website to help protect people, pets, and the environment from expired and unwanted medications.