2019 Lake Erie Day at Stone Lab

Ohio Sea Grant agents explaining how they deploy plankton nets for cyanobacteria testing

For over a decade, Ohio Sea Grant has hosted an annual Lake Erie Day for coastal county commissioners, mayors, and decision makers at Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island off the coast of South Bass Island. I, along with approximately 20 other officials and representatives of local government agencies, were able to experience Lake Erie up close aboard a research vessel, attend presentations by experts on current Lake Erie research, and visit other Ohio Sea Grant facilities that inform the public about Lake Erie. 

This year’s program focused on harmful algal blooms (HABs) and the group was informed about the conditions that cause them to form and become toxic, how they threaten our health and drinking water, and prevent people from enjoying recreational activities along the shoreline, including swimming, boating and fishing, which can negatively impact the region’s $15 billion tourism industry. The science presented to us shows that HABs are primarily caused by agricultural runoff and cause especially harmful blooms when we have heavy spring rains that wash fertilizer and manure rich in phosphorus into rivers and streams that flow into Lake Erie, known as non-point source runoff. HABs are an increasing threat to the western basin because of their large agriculture industry and shallow waters. Here in the eastern basin, which is much deeper than the western, we are generally safe from HABs. However, that was not always the case. Prior to the creation of the EPA, our area was at risk due to non-regulated combined sewer overflows (CSOs) within a city’s water infrastructure and at wastewater treatment plants. These facilities are now constantly monitored by the Ohio EPA and those working at area plants. Should we ever see an increase in HABs in our area, the cause would likely be due to a malfunction of equipment and would be resolved quickly.

After receiving a crash course in HABs, we boarded a Stone Lab research vessel to conduct field testing and sample fishing. We deployed a secchi disk, a 20cm diameter disk with alternating black and white quadrants affixed to a thin rope, into the water to measure it’s clarity. The clearer the water, the deeper sunlight can reach and aide in growing toxic algal blooms. We then deployed fine mesh nets to capture zooplankton samples that can be analyzed and tested for cyanobacteria from HABs. We ended our research by trawl fishing to check what fish species may exist. In our sampling, native perch and walleye were plentiful, but smaller, non-native species were also present. We broke for lunch and I was able to chat with an Ohio Sea Grant agent who works on certifying clean marinas. She may prove to be a valuable resource as Euclid moves forward with phasing our Waterfront Improvement Plan to potentially include a marina. While most marinas in our area maintain certain green infrastructure elements, few if any have been built from scratch in this way. Building a clean marina from the onset of engineering could be yet another unprecedented move for Euclid. After lunch the group toured the 8-acre island, visiting the historic Jay Cooke House and the outpost from which Commodore Perry and his men purportedly spied enemy ships approaching on the Detroit River during the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. We then boarded a boat to head back to South Bass Island to visit the historic Put-in-Bay Fish Hatchery, which serves as Stone Lab’s Aquatic Visitors Center. In its more than 80 years of operation, the hatchery has raised a variety of fish species, including walleye, sauger, whitefish, herring, yellow perch, coho salmon, chinook salmon, and steelhead. 

The day was full of valuable information, research, and networking and allowed me to be an ambassador for Euclid. Throughout the day, I talked with Ohio Sea Grant agents and other community leaders about the importance of including our environment in planning and development, the benefit of public access to our area’s greatest resource and offered to host tours of our waterfront development project. It confirmed that all across northern Ohio, eyes are on Euclid's efforts to open our shoreline to the greater public, address disastrous erosion and recreate precious habitats for native species. 

For more information about Ohio Sea Grant and its programs, including educational programs and field trip opportunities, please visit https://ohioseagrant.osu.edu/education.

Christine McIntosh

City of Euclid Ward 5 Councilwoman

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Volume 10, Issue 10, Posted 5:24 PM, 09.08.2019