Nearshore buoy wraps up another successful season of Lake Michigan data collection

The Michigan City real-time monitoring buoy, jointly owned and operated by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Purdue University Department of Civil Engineering, is out of the water for the 2013 season. This year, the buoy was deployed for 154 days, reporting data every 10 minutes around-the-clock. Over 3,400 people visited the buoy website during deployment, with an average of 18 hits per day. As one user put it, “Many, many of us have found the information as nothing less than terrific! Sailors like myself, fisherman like my dock neighbor, and so many pleasure boaters from Michigan City, Burns Harbor like to know what to expect once we leave the harbors.”

Buoy-watchers will have more to look forward to in 2014, as this winter the buoy will be getting an upgrade. Thanks in part to a grant from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Lake Michigan Coastal Program awarded to IISG's Tomas Hӧӧk, the buoy will broadcast real-time temperatures at different depths during the 2014 season and beyond. The buoy has always collected surface water temperature, but now it will also collect temperatures approximately every three feet from the surface to the bottom of the lake. 

“We are very excited to install this chain of temperature loggers”, said Carolyn Foley, IISG assistant research coordinator who will help implement the new chain. “A number of groups told us they would use this information, from kayakers wanting to know if it’s warm enough to go for a paddle to anglers wanting to know where the best fishing will be.”

In addition to installing the new temperature loggers, IISG education staffers Terri Hallesy and Robin Goettel will work with Indiana educators to develop data-based lesson plans. IISG outreach staff, including Angela Archer and Leslie Dorworth, will also attend at least one outdoor show in northwestern Indiana to get direct feedback on ways to improve the buoy website for future seasons. 

We would like to hear from anyone who uses the buoy data, particularly anglers, paddlers, and others who use southern Lake Michigan for recreation, as well as educators interested in using buoy data in their classrooms. If you 1) are an educator in grades 8-12 interested in participating in a workshop to acquire data sets for teaching and to develop lesson plans with buoy data, 2) have feedback related to improving the buoy website, and/or 3) would like to suggest an outdoor show for us to attend, please send us an email with “Buoy feedback” in the subject line. We expect to redeploy the buoy in mid-May 2014. 

Special thanks to the staff of the Indiana DNR Michigan City Field Office for their help deploying and retrieving the buoy.


Purdue turns the spotlight on one of IISG's own

Tomas Hook, IISG's associate director of research, was recently the subject of Purdue University's "Ag Research Spotlight." 

From the article
"Höök’s research focuses on fish and fisheries ecology in the Great Lakes. Fish communities and populations—species numbers and their traits—change a great deal from year to year, he explains. Höök studies past, current and projected future conditions to examine the factors that lead to these changes over time and across habitats. He uses a variety of research methods, including lab experiments on how fish respond to different situations, field studies and computer modeling."
Read the complete profile at the link above, and learn more about Great Lakes research projects through the UpClose interview series and on our research webpage.


AIS project awarded inaugural ICMP grant

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program, aimed at protecting and managing the state’s Lake Michigan shoreline, recently announced the recipients of an inaugural round of grant funding. 

Among the projects selected for their ability to restore, protect, and maintain the beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s “AIS Outreach to Coastal Constituents” project was chosen for its ability to positively impact the Lake. The project, which seeks to continue spreading information and education about invasive species and their dangers to the Great Lakes, will help consumers, businesses, and residents better understand the dangers of invasive species and the simple steps that can prevent their introduction or spread. 

Sarah Zack, IISG Aquatic Invasive Species Specialist, looks forward to beginning this outreach project. “This award will allow the IISG AIS outreach team to educate a wide variety of people throughout the Lake Michigan coastal area about the threat AIS pose to our waters, since it provides for outreach to diverse groups – including water gardeners and recreational water users. We’re very excited to get started.”

The project will also build on the “Be a Hero – Transport Zero” campaign, which has already informed thousands of people in the Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana areas about these aquatic invaders. 

Look for further developments and information about these damaging species and how everyone can help prevent their transportation and spread throughout Illinois’ waterways.


DEA National Drug Take-back this Saturday

"We all work better with a deadline. So circle October 26th on your calendar and make sure you drop off any expired or unwanted medications that have been cluttering up your medicine cabinet during the National Prescription Take-Back Day. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will be working with local partners around the country to host thousands of drop-off locations. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. rain or shine. Prescription and over-the-counter medications will be accepted. Liquids, creams, and pet medicine are fine to bring, but sites won't accept sharps or thermometers. Click here to find drop-off sites close to you."
Prescription and over-the-counter medications are accepted, and this is a great opportunity to clear out your medicine cabinet while ensuring that these items are disposed of safely. Follow the link above for more information about unwanted medications and their proper disposal.


In the news: Viewing the Great Lakes from a new perspective

The Great Lakes are beautiful, of course, but it’s not often that we get a view of the Lakes that lets us see them in a different way. That’s just what happened a week and a half ago, though, when astronaut Karen Nyberg shared a picture she took of the Great Lakes – from outer space. 

From MLive.com
"Last Sunday, Oct. 13, American astronaut Karen Nyberg tweeted this excellent photograph of the Great Lakes taken on Aug. 23 from her vantage point orbiting the Earth aboard the International Space Station.

She posted the image on Twitter about 4:40 p.m., generating a cascade of re-tweets. As spectacular photos are wont to do, the image has spent the meantime making rounds on Facebook and other social media platforms.

The image shows four of the five Great Lakes. The sun’s glint brightens lakes Erie and Ontario to the east, while lakes Michigan and Huron are seen in shades of deeper blue. Lake Superior and most of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are not in the frame."
Check out the picture at the link in the quote and some additional photos from Karen Nyberg included in the MLive.com link.


Intern Allison spends some of her summer internship on-board a research vessel

Allison Neubauer, a University of Illinois Senior, was a summer intern with IISG’s Kristin TePas. Among the projects Allison worked on, she was part of the effort to develop a new website for the research vessel Lake Guardian. She wrote in to tell us more about her work this summer and her plans for the future following this internship experience.
“As an indecisive, undeclared sophomore I enrolled in a course titled Environmental Sustainability. Though I registered with low expectations, I found myself completely captivated by the readings and discussions we had in class. By the end of the semester I knew environmental sustainability was a passion I wanted to pursue, and I declared a major in Earth, Society, and the Environment. I also added a Geography and GIS Major and Business Minor along the way. Studying and working in these fields has afforded me the opportunity to engage in a wide range of academic and extracurricular experiences that have truly shaped my outlook on the world and secured my commitment to responsibly addressing environmental issues.

My internship with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant this summer has been the most rewarding experience of my collegiate career thus far. As the Great Lakes Education Intern I worked under the leadership of my mentor Kristin TePas to develop a website for the U.S. EPA research vessel Lake Guardian that effectively communicates the ship’s research and educational activities to the general public. The Lake Guardian is a unique and extremely valuable resource that has facilitated Great Lakes research for over 25 years, which in turn promotes better understanding and awareness of environmental issues affecting the lakes.

Kristin and I, through the creation of a user friendly Lake Guardian website, hope to expose teachers, students, and the general public to current Great Lakes research projects and inspire communication between scientists and their communities. By interviewing our target audience we determined what people wanted to see on the website and then developed some of the items they requested, including a ship specifications chart, science equipment videos, an 'Ask a Scientist' form, FAQ page, Science and Marine Career videos, as well as a YouTube channel and Flickr gallery to give a sense of life and work on the ship. The overarching goal is for the Lake Guardian site to be a fun and engaging way to compel people to be invested in the health and vitality of the Great Lakes.
My experiences this summer have opened my eyes to the importance of protecting the Great Lakes, which had not previously been in the forefront of my environmental concerns. Even growing up in Chicago I took Lake Michigan for granted because I did not understand how fragile the Great Lakes ecosystem truly is, or how critical the Lakes are to people’s livelihoods. Increasing awareness is vital to conserving the Great Lakes, and my position with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant this summer gave me great exposure to environmental outreach. I have thoroughly enjoyed my work, especially all the valuable input I received from an assortment of teachers, scientists, Lake Guardian crew, and Sea Grant staff. This internship has been an excellent growing experience for me. I have vastly improved my communication, planning, and organizing skills as well as enhanced my understanding of the Great Lakes.”
Allison is one of four interns who worked with IISG this summer. You can read about John’s work here, Alice’s experience here, and Emily’s work on social science efforts here.


In the news: Be aware of the Great Lakes’ dangers as well as their beauty

Each of the Great Lakes is a natural wonder, but the basic facts of their formation and location also makes them dangerous. Each year swimmers and boaters struggle with dangers from weather and riptides. 

From MLive.com
"According to the National Weather Service, there were seven fatalities and 14 rescues on the Great Lakes caused at least partially by currents in the water. Lake Michigan had the most incidents as is typically the case. There are a few reasons why Lake Michigan is the most dangerous year after year. First is the combination of highest population and one of the warmer waters. Second is the shape of the lake which makes it conducive to rip currents.

This year did not have as many fatalities and rescues as compared to past years. The main reason for this was the colder summer keeping the number of swimmers down.

While currents caused by rip tides are dangerous, the most often cited reason for a rescue is structural. Piers and other structures make dangerous currents and create locations for injuries.
While the swimming season may be over, another very dangerous time on the Great Lakes is here. Fall is a season I've found to be most dangerous, especially on Saginaw Bay. Some duck hunters and fishers take unwise risks just to shoot a duck or catch a fish."
Read the rest of the article at the link above, and learn more about how to avoid some of the dangers from rip currents with the National Weather Service’s rip current awareness website.


Recent grad gets hands-on experience with social science through IISG summer internship

Emily Anderson graduated from Northern Illinois University this past spring and was able to put her studies to work right away as one of our summer interns. She wrote in to tell us about her experience working with Caitie McCoy on outreach and social science efforts related to sediment remediation. 
"This summer I interned with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant as the Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Intern. When I found the listing for the IISG Internship position I knew right away it was right for me. I was ecstatic to find a position that aligned with my interests in both psychology and environmental science, so I excitedly submitted my application and then waited nervously. Days after I walked across the stage as a 2013 graduate from Northern Illinois University, I relocated from DeKalb, Illinois to my new office on the University of Illinois’ campus. 
Throughout the summer I traveled around the Great Lakes with my mentor Caitie McCoy and collected data on people’s perceptions of contaminated sediments. One of Sea Grant’s missions is to conduct research across the Great Lakes; as such, my job was to assist Caitie in conducting a study on two contaminated rivers slated for cleanup. In order to restore the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem and restore benefits to the local communities, the GLLA funds sediment remediation and habitat restoration in connecting waterways. The purpose of our research was to gain an understanding of how people in these communities relate to their river so that this information could be used to guide outreach efforts at these and other contaminated sites. We were also interested in the different benefits that communities receive from these waterways and how cleanup efforts might enhance those resources. In order to get a site-specific understanding we traveled to different locations and interviewed local leaders. 

After learning about the background and purpose of the GLLA program, my first task was to recruit interview participants. I am rather shy normally, but conducting the recruitment communications and helping with the interviews was a great experience to break me out of my shell. I was pretty nervous during my first recruitment call, but after speaking with an extremely nice and generous person who invited us to go fishing during our interview I became much more comfortable. With help from our local outreach teams, we ended up with nearly 45 interviewees between our two sites (Duluth, MN and Sheboygan, WI). 

I really love to travel, see new places, and learn new things so I have to say conducting the interviews was my favorite part of the internship. Both cities were beautiful in their unique way, and I’d definitely visit again if I got the chance. (In fact I’d consider living in Duluth despite an average of 80 inches of snowfall per year.) It was so interesting to get to listen to people’s stories and learn about the environmental issues in the Midwest. After the site visit I got right to work at transcribing the interviews which I will admit was not my favorite part of the experience but was a very valuable task and an opportunity to develop a new skill. 

Before this internship most of the research I had been involved in was quantitative so the idea of data analysis guided by intuition was sort of foreign to me. At first I stumbled through the process but I found conceptual ground and eventually was able to enjoy qualitative analysis. Because of my concern for the health of the environment and my interest in social science it really gives me a great feeling to know that research like this is being conducted. In the end I feel accomplished; the study I helped with this summer will guide future outreach at the sites we visited and add to our understanding of the benefits of river cleanups. And ultimately that will help prove the real-world value and impact of programs like GLLA. This internship reaffirmed my passion for research and exposed me to a multitude of career options that are directly in line with my interests. I leave this position with a little more direction and a lot more hope for the future of the Great Lakes."
Emily is one of four interns who worked with IISG this summer. You can read about Alice’s experience here, John’s here, and look forward to another post soon.


Workshop to help retailers navigate new ban on invasive plants

Water garden retailers in the Chicago area are invited to attend a 3-hour workshop to learn more about a new state regulation banning the sale of 27 aquatic plants that pose a high risk of being invasive species. The workshop will take place Nov. 13 from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in the Regenstein Center at the Chicago Botanic Garden

During the workshop, Kevin Irons from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) will discuss the ban and its implications for the aquatic plant industry. Retailers will also learn about non-invasive plants they can sell in place of these potentially dangerous species.  

The regulation went into effect in August when IDNR added 27 new aquatic plants to its Injurious Species List, which also made it illegal to gift, barter, exchange, loan, or transport the plants without a permit. 

Plant species were chosen based on the results of a risk assessment tool developed in Indiana by the Aquatic Plant Working Group. This tool evaluates species based on factors like ability to thrive in the Great Lakes and difficulty to control. At the request of Indiana DNR, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) organized and facilitated the group, which included representatives from the aquatic plant industry, aquarium and water garden hobbyists, state agencies, academia, and non-governmental organizations. Their efforts led to a rule approved last year that bans the sale of 28 invasive aquatic plants in Indiana. 

“Prevention is the first and cheapest way to protect Illinois from aquatic invasive plants, and risk assessment tools like the one built in Indiana allow us to identify and control high risk species without unduly regulating the industry,” said Irons, aquaculture and aquatic nuisance species program manager for IDNR. “It is also important to have consistent regulations across the Great Lakes Basin. We want our policies to be consistent with our neighbors since invasive species don’t respect political boundaries.” 

Regulations like these are just one component of IDNR’s efforts to control the spread of invasive species. Earlier this year, IDNR and IISG launched “Be a Hero - Transport Zero,” a state-wide campaign that gives boaters, anglers, and beach goers the information they need to help stop aquatic invaders. The state also spearheads efforts to detect new infestations and manage established species. 

The workshop is co-hosted by IISG, IDNR, and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Registration will be available at the door, or you can pre-register by calling 847-242-6439 or emailing  IL.IN.SeaGrant.Workshops@gmail.com.  

For more information, contact Greg Hitzroth.


Great Lakes Awareness Day at Shedd Aquarium demonstrates the importance of the Lakes

Earlier this month IISG and several other organizations participated in Great Lakes Awareness Day at Shedd Aquarium. The event featured 10 interactive exhibits that introduced visitors to Great Lakes issues and showed them what they can do keep the Lakes healthy.

IISG science writer Anjanette Riley had this to say about the event:
“To put it bluntly, Great Lakes Awareness Day was a huge success. There was maybe only a moment or two during the 3-hour event that exhibits weren’t crowded with people ready to learn more about aquatic invasive species, habitat restoration, and pollution from unwanted medications and unnecessary lawn care products. In the back-lit glow of the aquarium’s Water of the World galleries, children and adults became detectives on the hunt for aquatic invaders, saw how pollutants from streets and lawns flow into waterways with the help of a three-dimensional model, tested their knowledge of pharmaceutical pollution, and drew pictures of plants and animals important to Great Lakes health. Perhaps the biggest hit of the day was Spin-Fish-Win, an aquatic invasive species (AIS) trivia game.
No matter what part of the event they joined in on, though, these Shedd visitors were clearly interested in talking about important Great Lakes issues--sharing what they know and asking questions about what they didn’t. People I talked with were particularly interested in learning more about Asian carp, asking questions like “what makes them so bad,” “what can we do to stop their spread,” and even “can’t we just eat them?” Visitors were also surprised to learn about the impact pharmaceuticals have on fish and other aquatic organisms and wanted to know how they could safely rid their cabinets of unwanted medicines. And a father and his son took advantage of an AIS art contest to clear up rumors they had heard about some invaders and get up to date on the newest species knocking on the Great Lakes’ door.
Joining IISG staffers at the event were teachers and students from area schools who came to share what they are doing in their communities to protect water quality and aquatic wildlife. LaToyia Gilbert and her students talked about bringing medicine disposal ‘dos and don’ts’ to citizens and pharmacy technicians in Gary, IN.

Latoyia was inspired to create this project based on what she learned at the recent Great Lakes B-WET workshop. Jim Doyiakos and students from Amundsen High School introduced visitors to the risks of invasive species. And Ronald Hall’s 41st Street Beach Eco Warriors from Evergreen Academy Middle School shared their experiences picking up trash and monitoring water quality at Chicago’s 41st Street Beach.

Thanks to a Shedd Aquarium teacher workshop going on that same day, some of the people who stopped by the exhibits were also teachers looking for ways to bring Great Lakes science into their classrooms. Many of these teachers took pictures of the displays or copies of the handouts so they could replicate the activities later. Others sought advice from teachers manning exhibits about potential stewardship projects they could do with their students. One teacher who helped with the event even asked if it could be repeated in the spring so her students could present their own projects.”
GLAD was coordinated by IISG as part of a Center for Great Lakes Literacy regional initiative. Visit www.cgll.org for more educational opportunities throughout the region.


New IISG research will inform natural resource decisions

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant has just announced more than $300,000 in funding awards for three research projects taking place over the next two years. These projects seek to improve understanding of the Lake Michigan nearshore food web, uncover connections between sediment removal projects and a community’s ability to weather environmental hazards, and identify why people adopt stormwater management practices.  

“We are very pleased to continue our support of outstanding research projects on topics with real significance for the region,” said Tomas Hook, IISG associate director for research. “These projects address some of the biggest concerns facing the Great Lakes and their results will help policy makers and natural resource managers preserve Lake Michigan habitats and strengthen lakeside communities.” 

IISG is continuing to fund projects focused on Lake Michigan nearshore food webs with a study examining the importance of wetlands in the lives of sport fishes like yellow perch, walleye, and largemouth and smallmouth bass. Gary Lamberti from the University of Notre Dame will use location monitoring data and tissue samples from fish across the lake to pinpoint the types of wetlands species rely on the most for food and shelter. The results will help natural resource managers target protection and restoration efforts on areas critical to the overall health of the lake. Lamberti will work with Patrick Forsythe from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay as part of a larger project with Wisconsin Sea Grant

A community’s vulnerability to environmental hazards depends on a lot of factors—things like average incomes, education levels, hazard awareness, and public engagement. Bethany Cutts and Andrew Greenlee from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will investigate how these factors change when a community becomes involved in sediment removal projects. Using towns in the Lincoln Park-Milwaukee Estuary and Grand Calumet Areas of Concern as models, Cutts and Greenlee will develop tools urban policy makers can use to identify the best ways to help communities prepare for and recover from hazards such as pollution, natural disasters, and changing weather patterns. 

Linda Prokopy and Nicholas Babin will use Sea Grant funding to better understand what motivates landowners to adopt and continue practices that reduce stormwater runoff, such as using rain barrels to catch runoff from roofs or building rain gardens to absorb water and filter out pollutants. Stormwater runoff is one of the biggest culprits in lake and river pollution, and community-wide adoption of best management practices is key to protecting water quality. Armed with their findings, the Purdue University researchers will team up with the non-profit organization Save the Dunes to improve stormwater outreach and education efforts in northwestern Indiana. 

Visit the IISG research page to learn about past research projects and their results.


SeaPerch contest winners get their robots up and running

Last month, we announced that six teachers from the Champaign-Urbana area had won tool kits for constructing simple, remotely operated underwater robots with their students. With the help of online lesson plans, the winning teachers will use the SeaPerch robots to teach their students about topics including buoyancy, propulsion, circuitry, and biological sampling.

Along with the kits, teachers got an opportunity to learn construction techniques  and practice using the equipment during one of two SeaPerch Build Sessions held in October. During the sessions, Blake Landry, coordinator of the University of Illinois SeaPerch Program, took teachers step-by-step through the build process.  

The winning teachers have big plans for their robots. Some will use them to introduce their younger students to basic engineering concepts for the first time. In other classrooms, the robots will provide an opportunity for students to test their knowledge of things like simple circuits. Some teachers are even considering partnering up to start an after-school club that will compete in the national SeaPerch Challenge. With these six teachers now using SeaPerch, there is also a possibility that they may launch a regional SeaPerch Challenge.

The SeaPerch giveaway contest was funded by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant to help teachers in the Great Lakes region integrate science education with engineering and math.

Visit the SeaPerch homepage to learn more about the tool kits and the SeaPerch program.


Top: Blake shows Carol Smith and Geoff Frymuth how to use the tools provided in the SeaPerch teacher’s kit. Carol is a 5th grade teacher at Leal Elementary School in Urbana, and Geoff teaches 7th grade science at Champaign’s Jefferson Middle School.

Middle: Carol practices stripping electrical wires used to connect the three motorized propellers that steer the underwater robots. Stripping wires and building motors are just a few of the many engineering tasks her students will have to do when they build their own robots in the spring. 

Bottom: Carol, Geoff, and Jen White, an 8th grade science teacher at Jefferson Middle School, take notes as Blake shows how to install and waterproof the motors and secure the frame of a completed SeaPerch robot.


Urbana fourth grade class engages in some fish talk

Alex Valencic’s fourth-grade class may be several hours away from Lake Michigan, but the lake and its issues are still front-and-center. Students here spent part of September digging into the biology of Great Lakes fish, and last week they presented their discoveries to an audience of classmates joined by IISG’s Robin Goettel and Anjanette Riley

The presentations covered a spectrum of native and non-native species—lake trout, Eurasian ruffe, Atlantic salmon, round goby, black herring, and more. And it was clear that these fourth-graders had become experts in their chosen species. They talked about where their fish lives, its life cycle, what it eats, and what eats it. Several students showed how their fish have been affected by invasive species such as round goby and sea lamprey, which one student referred to as "an alien in the Great Lakes." Those who chose invasive species also explained how they spread and taught the class what they could do to prevent future invasions. Others talked about the impact of overfishing and pollution on their species and the food web as a whole. At the end of their presentation, each student was peppered with questions like "how many times does your fish lay eggs?" and "what kind of plankton does it eat?"

It was also clear that the students were excited to share what they had learned. Many said they enjoyed learning about the shape and size of their fish, while others liked knowing about the predators of the Great Lakes. A handful even said their favorite part of the project was researching and presenting. 

Mr. Valencic got the idea to bring Great Lakes issues to his class at Wiley Elementary School in Urbana, IL after spending a week aboard the U.S. EPA R/V Lake Guardian this summer for the annual Shipboard and Shoreline Workshop. During the week, he and 14 other formal and non-formal educators worked alongside scientists as they collected data on Lake Ontario. This year, participants collected samples from different locations to monitor water quality, studied species at the bottom of the food web, and learned more about organisms living on the lakebed. Sea Grant officials on board paired hand-on research with curriculum activities to help teachers better incorporate Great Lakes science into their classrooms.  

Examining fish biology is one of two inquiry-based research projects Mr. Valencic has lined up for this year. Overall he hopes to use what he learned this summer to teach his students more about how aquatic species interact with each other and their environments.  

Visit the Shipboard Science blog to hear what the teachers had to say about this year’s workshop. And read pages 4-5 of last winter’s Helm to learn more about how participants are bringing Great Lakes science into their classroom. 


Summer intern works on getting the word out about waste reduction

John Saltanovitz, currently a senior at Purdue earning a bachelor's degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Science, worked this past summer as a sustainable communities outreach intern with IISG’s Kara Salazar. He wrote in to detail his experience getting hands-on in the environmental science field.
"When I started college, I was not aiming towards a career in environmental science. But as my classes progressed and I learned more about the topics, I realized how important the field was. There are so many issues that, if left ignored, could cause problems for future generations. Working to solve these problems is why I chose environmental science as my major. I learned about the internship with IISG from an email my department sent out, and it seemed like an amazing opportunity to get hands-on with the field I wanted to be involved in.

My specific focus was with community outreach. I worked with Kara on creating publications that could help communities be more aware of environmental problems and how to fix them. My main project was creating a zero waste guide that could be used for planning local events in the future. The guide helps to provide ideas and statistics behind zero waste events, how they work, and how to plan for them. My hope is that this document will encourage people in the community to work towards being more environmentally friendly.

My work this summer has showed me how much effort those in the outreach field put forth to help make a difference. I’ve always grown up around the Great Lakes, but this internship really opened my eyes to all of the different projects people are doing to assist and protect the Great Lakes region. Before this internship, the idea of research/outreach with the Great Lakes hadn't crossed my mind, but this summer's experiences have greatly increased my interest in and passion for the subject. I’ve learned that no problem is too small or unimportant when it comes to creating a better place to live and a healthier environment.

I plan on continuing my studies in environmental science and working towards a degree in environmental engineering. My internship showed me how many possibilities are out there and what can be accomplished with hard work. I’ve met so many great people through IISG who all have a passion for what they do. It was a blessing to be involved in an organization like IISG. The only downside is that the summer felt like it went by so fast. I wish that I could have had more time to continue working and networking in the field."
John is one of four interns who worked with IISG this summer. You can read about Alice’s experience here, and look forward to additional posts soon.


6th Grade teacher uses workshop experience to train student scientists

This past summer’s B-WET workshop offered a lot of lesson and activity ideas for all of the teachers who attended, including Marea Spentzos-Inghram, middle school teacher at Catherine Cook School in Chicago.  

Beyond just taking a few curriculum ideas back to her lesson prep, though, Ms. Spentzos-Inghram decided to turn her class into student scientists by becoming official precipitation observers for CoCoRaHS – the “Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network” – which is a volunteer network of weather watchers throughout the country. The project was even featured in the school newsletter (photo below).

"The B-WET workshop presented teachers with so much information it would be impossible to not get inspired!" said Ms. Spentzos-Inghram. "They had a lineup of AMAZING presenters from a variety of organizations to promote their efforts, which made it a one-stop shop for information about bringing Great Lakes science into the classroom."

"Being an urban school, I felt limited in outdoor environmental opportunities but CoCoRaHs was do-able. Since I have rooftop access to my building it was easy to participate! And the students get REALLY excited when it rains because they want to see how much rain fell at our school. I can't imagine what it will be like for snow (or other precipitation)."

Ms. Spentzos-Inghram has expanded on this experience and introduced an outreach component, with a group of students working on a PSA right now featuring a cartoon rain gauge being interviewed. 

As for the benefits of the workshop, "what they had to share seemed easy (teachers like easy) yet practical, useful, and educational. And the students have really taken to it and gotten involved, which is the best part of coming back with new ideas for the classroom."

Similar workshops are held regularly, and you can contact IISG’s Robin Goettel and Terri Hallesy for more details. You can find additional information about Great Lakes science resources and training at our education page and at the Center for Great Lakes Literacy.


Clearing up Asian carp misconceptions

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune discussing the trouble with marketing Asian carp as food (as a way to reduce the threat they pose to Illinois waterways) shows that there is still some "schooling" needed on the facts about these invasive species.

One of the most common misconceptions about Asian carp, which is stated early on in the article, is that Asian carp are “bottom-feeding” fish: 
"At a maximum of 100 pounds, the slimy, bottom-feeding Asian carp is a creature suited for science fiction…"
Though large and invasive, Asian carp are not a "bottom-feeding" fish like catfish or other scavenger species. Instead, Asian carp (such as the silver carp) are "filter feeders" – they collect and feed on plankton floating in the water as they move through it. This eating method, combined with the carp’s voracious appetite, is one of the things that makes them particularly damaging to waterways. Due to the volume of plankton that they are capable of eating, they can have damaging and lasting effects on the food supply for native and beneficial species

This is a very important distinction, because bottom-feeding fish typically have higher contaminant levels (since PCBs and mercury are heavier and sink in the water). Because Asian carp are filter feeders, their diets are low in contaminants. 

The Springfield State Journal Register has reported on this common misconception as well, writing in an article from August of last year
"Part of the Asian carp’s poor image stems from its name. It’s often confused with the common carp, a bottom feeder with a flavor sometimes referred to as 'muddy.'

The Asian carp, in fact, are clean fish that feed on plankton and algae in the upper water of rivers. The meat is rich in protein and low in mercury because they doesn't (sp) eat other fish.

The tender flesh lacks a 'fishy' taste, so it easily absorbs the flavors of sauces, spices and herbs cooked with it."
The problem stemming from this misperception of these fish is noted in the Tribune article as well, but not until the last few paragraphs.
"'The problem is they're carp,' said Steven McNitt, sales manager for Schafer Fisheries, a major processor of Asian carp in Thomson, Ill., 'and in the U.S., nobody under the age of 40 would eat carp. They think the fish is dirty.'"
"We, too, have heard favorable remarks when people try Asian carp at our tasting events, but the name can be off-putting," said Pat Charlebois, Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. "At our request, the Sea Grant Law Center researched the feasibility of changing the name of Asian carp for market purposes, such as was done for Chilean sea bass, which was once known as the Patagonian toothfish. But because the 'Asian carp' name is already established as a market species, it can't be changed. Products made from Asian carp can have a different name, but not the fish itself."

There is also some confusion over whether Asian markets are wary of purchasing the fish because of perceived contaminant issues or other reasons. 
"Jim Garvey, a Southern Illinois University fish ecology expert coordinating some of the state's research, control and marketing efforts, added that Asian consumers also are wary of U.S. Asian carp quality. That is a misguided perception, Garvey insisted. Contaminants in carp 'are actually quite low,' especially compared with tuna, he added."
But according to representatives at Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Chinese market has a strong preference for Asian carp from the U.S. for several reasons, including the fact that they are wild caught (rather than farmed), and because of their size and purity. The wild caught Asian carp in the U.S. have significantly lower contaminant levels than the domestic Chinese carp. 

The more likely barrier to creating a larger market in China for the Asian carp is the fact that the U.S. fish would compete with domestic producers. 

Whether sold here in the U.S. or abroad, there have been a variety of publications that have offered support for eating the invaders as a solution to their presence.  

First, Asian carp recipes have been published in numerous publications including Field & Stream magazine, offering not only cooking tips but positive reviews on the taste and preparation of the fish. And the concept of beating invasive species by eating them has been covered by PBS, the New York Times, and others. Additionally, a recent taste test at an Indiana bowfishing tournament earned high praise for Asian carp prepared as fish strips. 

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant's Asian carp marketing summit (PDF) also addressed a number of the issues and obstacles related to the marketing and sale of Asian carp. Based on the positive response to the fish at a number of tasting events, the public perception of the fish as a "bottom feeder," as the Chicago Tribune incorrectly stated, may be one of the few remaining hurdles to finding a market for them here in the states. 

The Tribune article also perpetuates the idea that Asian carp weren't present in U.S. waterways until heavy flooding in the south in 1993, but Bighead carp (one of the varieties of this invasive fish) were found in the Illinois and Ohio rivers as early as 1986. The flooding in 1993 may have contributed to their spread, but the aquatic invaders were already present and accounted for prior to that. 

Finally, the article mentions a number of methods currently in place to keep the fish from making it into the Great Lakes, including mention of carbon dioxide barriers. Carbon dioxide "cannons" are currently being researched and tested, but are not presently in use as a barrier for the entire river. They do have potential applications at crossings and locks where they could be used to keep all fish (including invasive species) from traversing those connections and spreading to other water bodies. 

Of course, it is critical to find ways to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes where their impact could have unimaginable consequences for industry, recreation, and the environment. It may take a combination of options, such as catching and eating the invasive fish, tracking their movement to manage the populations, and other methods to keep them from damaging other waterways.


New report on the St. Louis River AOC and its stakeholders is now available

­­Among the many Areas of Concern (AOCs) designated by the International Joint Commission, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant has been involved in several providing research and reports on local stakeholders perceptions of cleanup operations and ways in which they are affected by the projects. This latest report details the St. Louis River AOC. 

From IISG’s Caitie McCoy
"A report on stakeholder perceptions of the St Louis River Area of Concern (AOC) and attitudes toward the cleanup and restoration work is now available. This summer, I traveled to the St Louis River with my intern Emily Anderson to perform social science research on community attitudes toward remediation and restoration. The river is located on the border between Duluth, MN and Superior, WI, and is the largest U.S. AOC. The report will help tailor efforts of the Spirit Lake Outreach Team toward local stakeholder needs and interests at the current Great Lakes Legacy Act site in the river, Spirit Lake.

Emily provided her thoughts on the experience – 'Being part of the research team for this project allowed me to experience firsthand how social science contributes to environmental remediation and restoration. Conducting the interviews with Caitie, I met so many intriguing and knowledgeable people; I now see the direct implications that stakeholder input can have for both outreach and project design.'

This assessment is part of a larger effort to understand how AOC work influences stakeholder perceptions and use of waterways at a regional scale. A similar report on the Sheboygan River is available and a follow-up report on Sheboygan, post-cleanup, is coming soon."
Follow the link above for the complete report, and learn more about social science applications in restoration projects by visiting the Great Lakes Social Science Network page.


More information is key in drought management

Residents of Illinois probably remember the summer of 2012 as a rainless one. That drought cost the state about 11 inches in precipitation, making it the worst in state history. It also raised serious questions about drought forecasting, water usage, the economic and environmental impacts of droughts, and what individuals can do to prepare for future dry spells. Those are just some of the questions scientists, agency representatives, local officials, and members of the agricultural industry started to tackle during the Illinois Drought Workshop, held this week at the Biennial Governor’s Conference on the Management of the Illinois River System.  

The workshop was hosted by IISG’s Brian Miller and Lisa Merrifield as part of their work with the Illinois Water Resource Center and in partnership with the University of Illinois Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Martin Jaffe, IISG environmental planning specialist, also spoke. The 4-hour workshop set out to identify where new research is needed to better understand drought impacts and what tools could help groups like state and local agencies and the agricultural industry manage droughts down the road.

At the heart of much of the day’s conversation was what we know about water supply and demand—or more accurately, what we don’t know. A handful of Illinois regions have launched water supply planning initiatives over the last few years that look at how much water is available, how it is being used, and what steps are needed to ensure the region has a sustainable supply of water. But in most of the state, little is known about available water resources and consumer demand. That information could help communities make more informed decisions about everything from where they get their water to how much it should cost to what types of uses should be restricted first when the rain stops falling. Supply planning in northeastern Illinois has already helped some communities pass lawn watering ordinances

Information needs are a little different in the agricultural industry. For farmers, fertilizer applicators, and others, one of the keys to drought preparedness is access to timely soil moisture forecasts, not just rainfall predictions. Differences in soil composition, stormwater runoff, and evaporation mean that there can be a big gap between how much rain a region gets and how much water crops get. Knowing more about soil moisture can help farmers pull only as much water as is necessary, as well as decide when to apply fertilizer, till, and plant. And understanding long-term trends could even lead to larger changes for the industry, such as building more irrigation infrastructure or switching to more drought-resistant crops. 

Participants also agreed that there needs to be more and better communication between scientists, state and local governments, water planners, industries, and the public. For example, communities relying on the same water sources need to talk about their water needs and how they negotiate conflicting demands when supplies are low. And forecasters and agencies need to hear from farmers about impacts to crops during droughts so they can determine just how severe the drought is while there is still time to respond.

More information on the research gaps identified during the workshop and the participant's recommendations for improving drought forecasting and mitigation in Illinois will be posted soon on the Illinois Water Resource Center website. In the meantime, you can learn more about water supply planning and what you can do to help ensure Illinois is never left high and dry. 


Sea Grant intern gets the word out about invasive species this summer

Alice Denny, a recent graduate from Hartwick College, spent the summer working with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant aquatic invasive species team in Glencoe, Illinois, and wrote in to share details about her experience. 
“I’ve always had a love for being outdoors. Several family members of mine work in the environmental field, so that helped spark my interest in biology and environmental science. A relative of mine mentioned the IISG internship program to me last summer, but I was away at school and unavailable. I was very thankful that this internship was offered again this year as I finally got the chance to get involved with Sea Grant.

I worked with the Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Team in Glencoe, IL. Specifically I worked with fishing tournament anglers and organizers, helping that group prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Anglers are a large and crucial audience when trying to reach recreational water users, as they are dependent on healthy water for fishing. However, little information was available on this audience and what they do in terms of AIS prevention. I conducted a survey with tournament organizers to better understand what their role was in AIS prevention, and I attended several fishing tournaments throughout the summer to conduct public outreach. 

I’ve gained so much more experience with public outreach and education through this internship. Going to events throughout the summer has provided me with experience explaining complex environmental issues to the public. I’ve always had an interest in ecology, but this internship has really fueled an interest in aquatic ecology, especially in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes are an important natural resource for us, and my internship gave me an opportunity to help protect the Lakes in a meaningful way.

At this point, I want to continue working in the environmental field before going back to school for any graduate work. At the moment, I’ve just been hired to continue with IISG as an outreach assistant. I’m obviously extremely excited to stay on board with the AIS team and continue working with recreational water users as well as other audiences critical to preventing the spread of these species.”
Alice is one of four interns who worked with IISG this past summer, and we’ll be featuring posts from the others coming up in future blog posts.


Getting a closer look at one of the Midwest's largest aquaculture operations

In central Indiana, hours away from where they are commonly fished in the Great Lakes, yellow perch are being raised and sold by the hundreds of thousands. Central Indiana is  home to Bell Aquaculture, the largest yellow perch farm in the country. And it is here that IISG staffers got a first-hand look at the state’s growing aquaculture industry during a staff retreat last week. 

During our afternoon at Bell, we were treated to an up-close look at everything from egg hatching to the filleting and freezing of fully grown fish before they head to market. The tour took us through warehouses of enormous fish tanks, some holding up to 70,000 gallons of water and 250,000 yellow perch. We saw hundreds of thousands of perch at different stages of development, including ones that had reached their 150-gram market size and were being moved to the processing wing to be descaled and filleted. 

But perhaps the most interesting part of the tour was learning about all the work that went into keeping the fish healthy. They are fed nine times a day and go through more than 2,500 pounds of feed each day. Employees keep a close eye on water quality, making sure that the temperature, oxygen, and pH levels are just right. Ozone is injected into the water to bind with fish waste and pull it to the bottom of the tank to be removed. And in the newest wing of the operation, the water in the tanks is constantly circulating through biofilters that remove any contaminants. Before taking the tour, staff even had to put booties on our shoes and clean our hands to make sure that no potentially dangerous microbes came along for the tour.

To top it all off, we also had a chance to taste test the fish. At the Lil Bistro in Redkey, IN (where Bell Aquaculture is headquartered), we enjoyed breaded fish and chips and yellow perch pizza, all prepared using the fresh perch from Bell. The fish was not only good but very fresh, and cooked up perfectly in each of the dishes. 

From the lunch alone it wasn’t hard to see why yellow perch is a popular pan fish in North America. But overfishing, pollution, and a dwindling food supply have taken their toll in the Great Lakes region, and the yellow perch population is reaching critically low numbers. Fish farms like Bell Aquaculture play a big role in ensuring that consumers have long-term access to yellow perch without endangering the strength and health of Great Lakes populations.  

Thanks in part to the success of their yellow perch, Bell Aquaculture is expanding. Their goal is to produce 24 million fish per year, more than can be fished out of the Great Lakes right now. They are also making room to breed, raise, and process additional food fish species. In fact, the aquaculture industry is growing all across the state. There are roughly 50 fish producers in Indiana today, nearly three times what there was in 2006. Together, these fish farms brought more than $15 million in sales to the state economy in 2012.   

Click here to learn more about Indiana’s growing aquaculture industry. And visit Bell’s website for a list of restaurants where you can conduct your own taste test.


In the news: Buffalo River cleanup project set to begin this month

The Buffalo River is among several Great Lakes Legacy Act remediation projects that Sea Grant has been involved in, and dredging on the latest segment of the river is scheduled to begin October 7.

"The initial phase of the Buffalo River’s restoration project was undertaken in 2011 and 2012 by the Corps of Engineers. About 550,000 cubic yards of sediment were dredged from the river’s navigation channel over that time. Combined with this dredging and removal effort, more than 1 million cubic yards of toxic sediment will be extracted from the river as part of the cleanup.

'It’s a milestone,' said Mary Beth Giancarlo, a Chicago-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist who is also an East Aurora native and is assigned to the Buffalo River to provide technical assistance to the project. 'It’s a major step.'

About $22 million will be contributed by the EPA to remediate this, one of its 30 designated 'areas of concern' on the Great Lakes, and the other $22 million is contributed by private industry.

To date, 15 other Great Lakes sites with legacy waste from industry have been completed as part of the federal government’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, including those in Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin."
Read more about this latest phase of the Buffalo River cleanup at the link above, and read more about similar remediation projects here and here.