News and views, and history and humor, about the lake I love.

"I can hear my granddad's stories of the storms out on Lake Erie, where vessels and cargos and fortunes, and sailors' lives were lost." ~ James Taylor, Millworker

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tests show high levels of liver toxin in Lake Erie water

Photo credit: Sierra Club
Tests of Lake Erie water at a beach in Maumee Bay revealed high levels of a liver toxin in the water, prompting the strengthening of a health warning for toxic algae. The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that while a previous warning at Maumee Bay State Park's beach in Lucas County told people not to touch blue-green algae scum or swallow lake water, that warning has now been upgraded to recommend against swimming and wading, after tests detected a liver toxin called microcystin in concentrations more than twice as high as the World Health Organization's safety standard for swimmers.
The Dispatch cites researchers as saying that toxic algae across the western basin of Lake Erie is the worst recorded there since they began tracking it in 2002.
Last Thursday state officials posted a warning at the Kelleys Island public beach recommending swimmers not touch the algae or swallow the water. Test results on toxins at that site are pending.

A University of Toledo ecologist who studies Lake Erie's harmful algae said this year's bloom covers more area and has lasted longer than the one two years ago. This summer's "algae bloom" already has been deemed 2.5 times denser than a record bloom in 2009, according to tests by the University of Toledo.

Phosphorus from manure, fertilizers and sewage feeds the blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria. Tests performed by Heidelberg University in Tiffin show large amounts of phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie from the Maumee and Sandusky rivers.

In addition to threatening the health of people and pets, blue-green algae also poses a threat to the lake's $10 billion annual tourism industry, according to the Dispatch.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Notes from the Toledo Antique and Classic Boat Show

I spent a beautiful Sunday (August 28) at the Toledo Maritime Center, scene of the Toledo Antique and Classic Boat Show. I'll get to the boats shortly, but first I want to mention the venue itself. The Toledo Maritime Center sits just off Exit 9 of I-280, on the south side of the Maumee River, and what a beautiful spot it is. Completed in November 2007, the TMC was intended as a multi-use facility for the city of Toledo. A small section of the building - featuring shower and laundry facilities as well as a marina management office - was designed to provide services to recreational boaters and travelers on Great Lakes bound cruise ships. The adjacent Glass City Marina, which complements the center nicely, has 77 boat slips, many of which were taken up this past weekend by boat show participants.

I don't know whether the initial plan for the TMC was overly ambitious or what; I just know I didn't see any cruise ships while I was there. What I do know is that in September 2009 the Great Lakes Historical Society announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority and Boyer Riverfront Inc. to create the National Great Lakes Maritime Museum on the banks of the Maumee River. That's exciting news. It's no secret that the Inland Seas museum in Vermilion, Ohio, has been getting the attendance numbers that it needs to remain viable. A move to the Maritime Center in Toledo will not only provide a better venue - particularly since it will be co-located with the museum ship Col. James M. Schoonmaker, a huge and historic Great Lakes freighter - it will fulfill the wish of many in the society of creating a veritable "Smithsonian" of the Great Lakes.

Back to the boats. The Toledo Boat Show, which first began in 2007 as a modest affair, has grown in size and audience appeal each successive year, according to the attendees I spoke with. By a rough count there must have been 75 or 80 boats on hand, a good portion of them in the water, and compared to other classic shows I have attended this year, there was a greater variety of boats at this show. In addition there was a host of exhibitors and vendors on hand, as well as some special treats. All for an entry fee of only $3. (And free parking, too.)

The advertising for this show made it clear that it would be "featuring Dart Boats." These boats were built by The Dart Boat Company in Toledo, Ohio, and The Indian Lake Boat Company of Lima. Indeed, in addition to the meticulously restored "Bootlegger" shown in the above photo (due to their speed, Dart boats were a favorite of Lake Erie rumrunners), there another four or five boats in the water. (I will devote a separate blog to these fine boats soon.)

Another highlight of the show was the option to hop in an old trolly for a ride over to the museum ship Col. James M. Schoonmaker, a magnificent Great Lakes freighter with a proud history. More on this in another blog as well.

Due to the brisk wind the Toledo Lighthouse Preservation Society unfortunately was not able to offer a tour out to the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse as they had done on Saturday. Nonetheless, it was a good day to be near the water.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Toledo Antique and Classic Boat Show

Attention lake and boat lovers: If you're not doing anything tomorrow, and you're anywhere near the Toledo-Detroit area, consider heading over to the Toledo Maritime Center, 1701 Front Street, for the Toledo Antique and Classic Boat Show going on this weekend.

There will be many boats displayed on land and in the water ranging from the 1920’s era through the modern day replica. This year’s show is featuring the Diamond Belle, vintage hydroplanes, an expanded marine mart, The Diamond Belle will be arriving carrying passengers from Detroit to visit the show.

Many classic and antique cars of all makes and models from throughout the years will be shown, and  live music performances will take place during the show as well. The show also features a Marine Mart with items for sale, historical displays, models, and artwork. Food vendors will also be on site.

Admission is $3.00 per person per day (children 10 and younger are free). Not only does the admission allow the Toledo community to view these great maritime artifacts but also includes admission to the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship. Free trolley service will be available between the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship and the Toledo Skyway Marina. 

Also, if the lake stays relatively calm and placid, there will be a rare opportunity to visit the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse, as reported in my blog yesterday. Tours in groups of 6 or 10 will leave from the marina at the Maumee Bay State Park at a cost of $40 per person.

Lost Shipwreck Found!

One of the things that makes living along Lake Erie so special is the presence of so many shipwrecks off our shores. I've heard it said that Erie has more shipwrecks per square mile than any other body of water on earth, making it a natural playground for scuba divers. And because there's something about a shipwreck that excites the imagination, its always a big event when a new wreck is discovered.

My friends Mike and Georgann Wachter, authors of the Erie Wrecks series of books, have just announce the discovery of the schooner barge Commodore, a 170 foot long vessel lost June 17, 1918 while being towed from Cleveland to Sandwich Ontario. The aging tow vessel Jay Gould began to leak in a storm and abandoned the Commodore. Both vessels sank but both crews were rescued by passing steamers. The Jay Gould has been a popular dive site for many years.

TheWachters report that the Commodore site is huge, with parts of the wreck located three tenths of a mile away from the main body of the hull. At the bow the donkey boiler has been pulled out of the vessel by fishnets and rests on the port side with the windlass. Piles of chain and hawes holes indicate that the anchors are still on the wreck site, though with limited visibility and so much area to explore they were not immediately located. The stack for the donkey boiler is also present as well as some other machinery. The port side of the wreck is more intact and piles of her coal cargo can be found everywhere.

At the stern there is a very small capstan near a set of bollards. In addition a toilet lies near the rudder which is fallen away from the main body of the wreck. If you wanted to follow the fish net, a hatch combing is many yards away. Fishnets are a serious hazard at this site when the visibility is restricted. Though the Commodore was found by a couple divers more than 15 years ago, her location was not divulged and only the two divers who found her ever dove the wreck.

The Wachters will be updating information on the wreck on their web site ( and will release the location to the general diving public next season.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Toledo Lighthouse Open to Public for First time in Over 50 Years

Photo credit: Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Preservation Society
Like a weary sentinel, the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse sit atop a crib about five miles offshore, marking the entrance to the Toledo Shipping Channel where Lake Erie and Maumee Bay meet. Its light has been shining out over the lake for more over a century and now, for the first time in over fifty years, the public will have an opportunity to go inside.

There will be tours of the lighthouse from 11 am thru 5 pm on August 27 & 28. There is limited availability (18 per hour on Saturday and 22 per hour on Sunday). To tour the lighthouse, you have to be able to climb a rung ladder - about six rungs to the lighthouse deck - and sign a waiver of liability form. There are 76 steps to the top. Three stories in the homelike part and three stories in the tower. Tours will be in small groups of 6 or 10 leaving from the marina at Maumee Bay State Park. The cost is $40. The trip includes the boat ride and tour that will last about 1 hour and 20 minutes (about 30-40 minutes at the lighthouse). Tickets can be obtained at the Toledo Antique & Classic Boat Show or by calling 419-367-1691. A credit card will secure the reservation but will not be charged until the day of the tours. Tours are weather dependent. There must be little to no wind. If trips are canceled they will be posted on the Toledo Lighthouse web site. There may also be an opportunity for a September weekend tour. If the August 27, 28 tour is weather cancelled, those registered will be given the opportunity to go on the September tour.

An imposing, if somewhat drab, structure, the Army Corps of Engineers designed the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse and construction began in 1901. The structure was completed three years later at a cost of $152,000. The Toledo Lighthouse is four stories high with a steel frame and an attached one-story fog signal annex building. The lighthouse stands 85 feet in height. First illuminated May 23, 1904, the 3-½ order Fresnel lens featured a 180-degree bulls eye, two smaller 60-degree bulls eyes and a ruby red half cylinder glass made in Paris, France by Barbier and Bernard. A weighted clockwork mechanism made the light rotate. The original Fennel lens could be seen from up to twenty-four miles. The original lens is located at the Imagination Station, a children's science center in downtown Toledo, Ohio.

Latest HAB Bulletin Indicates Continuing Spread of Algae Bloom Over Western Lake Erie

Nowcast position of Microcystis spp. bloom for August 25 using GLCFS modeled currents to move the bloom from the August 23 image. Please note: Colored pixels in Sandusky Bay are due to a mixed bloom dominated by Planktothrix spp. (Courtesy NOAA)
The last Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom Bulletin issued by NOAA, just issued, reveals that the Microcystis bloom that began at the beginning of summer continues to fan out across the lake, engulfing most of the western basin. Satellite imagery for the first time shows the bloom spreading beyond Pelee Point and Sandusky Bay. Here are the particulars of the HAB Bulletin.

Conditions: A confirmed Microcystis bloom persists in Western Lake Erie.
Analysis: A large Microcystis bloom has spread throughout the western basin of Lake Erie. Since last Thursday the bloom has moved further North and East and seems to extend past Pelee Point on the north shore, and past Sandusky Bay to the south. Transport over the weekend is expected to move the bloom further to the east. Winds today may cause the surface expression of the bloom to decrease, followed by further intensification over the weekend.

You can download a PDF of the actual bulletin here or go to the HAB website.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

More Huron Boat Pics

Here's another group of boat show pics from the Huron All Classics Boat Show in Huron last weekend. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lake Erie Ferry Service Closer to Reality

Proposed Lake Erie ferry route
After years of rumors and informal discussions, plans for a Lake Erie ferry service between Cleveland and Port Stanley have taken a big step toward becoming reality. The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority and Central Elgin, the governing authority over Port Stanley, have teamed up to work toward pilot ferry service between the two ports. The two cities received two formal proposal packages by the Aug. 15 deadline for submissions, one from an American ferry operator and one from a Canadian firm.

Back in February local officials in Central Elgin had first agreed to begin formal discussions with the Port Authority regarding the launch of a ferry service between the two ports. Once the Central Elgin Municipal Council passed a resolution supporting further discussions with Cleveland port officials, talks between the two accelerated.

Port Authority CEO Will Friedman had reopened discussions with Canadian officials about the ferry service last fall. The service had been contemplated for years, but did not materialize, in part because the Canadian government had not completed a long-awaited transfer of the waterfront property to local control. Once the transfer took place, formal discussions got underway.

Officials from Central Elgin will be invited to Cleveland in the next several weeks to review the submissions, agree on ways to assess them and discuss next steps.

(Sources for this story: The London Free Press and the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority)

EPA hiring jobless workers for Great Lakes cleanup

We learn today that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will spend $6 million to hire unemployed people who can work on Great Lakes cleanup projects. Congress has appropriated $775 million over the past two years for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a wide-ranging plan to improve the region's environmental health.

The projects will include cleaning up toxic pollution, fighting invasive species, improving wildlife habitat and protecting watersheds from contaminated runoff. In recent weeks, EPA has been announcing grants for projects around the region from the $300 million allocated for the 2011 fiscal year. The final $6 million from that pot of money will go to the unemployment initiative.

Supporters of the Great Lakes initiative have said it would stimulate the region's economy and create jobs. The newly announced program is unique because it specifically targets jobless workers. An EPA spokesman said the initiative is similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Depression-era program that put the unemployed to work.

EPA will choose projects by the end of September. To qualify, they must provide immediate, direct ecological benefits and be located in areas identified as federal priorities, such as national lakeshores or areas of concern. They also must include a detailed budget and produce measurable results.

It's not know how much of this work will involve Lake Erie projects. I will be keeping an eye on this and will pass along what I hear.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Dead Zone Revisited: A University of Michigan professor and his students work to solve the problem of hypoxia in Lake Erie

Don Scavia
A few weeks ago I wrote about the "dead zone", or hypoxia region, that forms in Lake Erie's central basin as a result of the presence of excessive nutrients in the lake, causing too much algae to grow and, in turn, consume precious oxygen in the water needed to sustain indigenous fish and plant life. It's such a serious problem, one that threatens Lake Erie's fragile ecosystem.

One of the guys on the front lines working to find solutions to this problem, Don Scavia, Professor of Natural Resources and Environment and of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Don and his students combine numerical models, laboratory and field work, and assessments to improve the understanding of interactions between human activities on land and their impacts on coastal marine and freshwater ecosystems. Don has also served on the Boards of Directors for the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, the International Association for Great Lakes Research, and the Great Lakes Observing System.

In testimony before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Committee on Science and Technology in September of 2009, Dr. Scavia call hypoxia "an issue of global importance." He told the subcommittee that "the dead zone in Lake Erie, once thought to be under control and shrinking, has grown again to sizes not seen in decades." He went on to say:
Clearly, the nutrient pollution problem is not under control, and if more is not done to reduce this pollution to coastal and Great Lakes waters, we can expect further degradation and loss of important recreational and commercial resources.
In a recent article in the Great Lakes Echo, Dr. Scavia is attributed as saying that the dead zone in the central basin of the lake has grown up to two thirds of the entire lake in recent years. While cropland area has not substantially increased since the 1950s, agriculture intensification has brought loss of natural habitats and increased use of pesticides, fertilizer and manure which pollute the lakes. These factors, combined with heavy spring and fall precipitation, are thought to be the cause the increased hypoxia in the lake.

Dr. Scavia is currently heading up a study to establish the link between climate change, farming and dead zones, with the ultimate goal of helping farmers modify their practices to control their impacts on the lakes. One avenue to help lessen the impact, according to Scavia, would be amending the Farm Bill, a federal law that regulates agricultural practices, so that it allocates more funds and works towards land and water conservation.

Tell your representatives to fight for these changes in the Farm Bill and other measures that will help save Lake Erie.

In a balanced ecosystem (left) some nutrients fuel the growth of microscopic algae, which are the base of the aquatic food chain. In an unbalanced ecosystem (right), excess nutrients cause too many algae to grow. The excess algae die, sink to the bottom, and are decomposed by bacteria, which use up oxygen in the water. Image:

Huron 'All Classics' Boat Show

This past weekend I had the opportunity to check out the All Classics Boat and Car Festival at the Huron Boat Basin in Huron this past weekend. Sponsored by the Lyman Boat Owners Association, this annual event featured a plethora of classic boats, predominately wood but also some vintage fiberglass Chris Craft yachts. These were sequestered away in another part of the basin, to the amusement of wood boat fanatics. But it was all in good fun as a large crowd was on hand in beautiful weather to view the many find boats, big and small. Although Lyman boats predominated, Chris Craft was well represented, and there were some other gems as well, and even a few oddities. The majority of the boats were shown in the water, but a fair number were also on shore. I had my trusty camera with me and was snapping away like crazy. Beginning with this post I will be featuring my photographs of some of the boats at the show. Enjoy!
Beautifully finished Chris Craft on land
Another Chris Craft classic
This boat proves Lymans can come in non-traditional colors!
One of the more unique Chris Craft creations you will ever see
Rare Chippewa Brave Runabout

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Latest HAB Bulletin

NOAA Photo
As promised, here is the latest Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Bulletin from NOAA. It's not a pretty picture.
Conditions: A confirmed Microcystis bloom persists in Western Lake Erie.
Analysis: A large Microcystis bloom remains in Western Lake Erie. Model trajectory indicates an easterly transport over the weekend, potentially to Pelee Point by August 21. Recent wind conditions have been relatively low, allowing the biomass to be concentrated in the surface. Low wind stress is predicted over the weekend, so this trend should continue. Water temperatures remain high (nearly 25 C) which should allow the bloom to persist at its present intensities through next week.
You can also view the complete Bulletin in PDF, which shows imagery from the European Space Agency  of the bloom's progression. As you can see, it has spread out over much of Lake Erie's western basin.

This morning I noted that the bloom has encroached into several boat basins on the west side of the Catawba Island Peninsula. The icky green stuff is everywhere.

Swimming is not recommended.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Running the Bay Shore Gauntlet, or "You couldn’t pick a worse place to locate a power plant if you tried"

Imagine for just a moment you are an emerald shiner and you're swimming along the Lake Erie shore, minding your own business when, suddenly, you're gripped by a powerful current. Struggling with all your might, you try to break free but the current is too strong. Without warning you slam into something hard and unyielding - an intake screen. Don't look now, you've been impinged!

But wait. A little guy, you're lucky enough to slip through the mesh of the screen. But you're relief is short-lived. You have been sucked into the cooling system of the Bay Shore power plant and certain death awaits you. You've been entrained!

Gentner Consulting Group photo
Bay Shore is a coal-burning power plant located in Oregon, Ohio, near Toledo. (above photo) The plant killed 46 million adult fish and 14 million juveniles a year, either by impingement or entrainment, when operating at full capacity before three of its four units were at least temporarily idled. More than half - 24 million emerald shiners and 14 million gizzard shad - were bait fish that supported the Great Lakes region's $7 billion fishery. About $1 billion of that economic impact is in Ohio alone.

Past records submitted by the utility also showed an estimated 209 million fish eggs and 2.2 trillion microscopic fish in their larval form being pulled through screens and killed inside the plant each year when the station was running at full capacity. Environmental groups, including the Ohio Environmental Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Lake Erie Waterkeeper want FirstEnergy to install cooling towers at the Bay Shore plant at a cost of about $100 million. Cooling towers greatly reduce water intake and reduce fish mortalities by 95 percent. FirstEnergy has said it will close Bay Shore if it is forced to install a cooling tower.

Instead, FirstEnergy recently received approval from Ohio EPA to install a fish-saving device at the Bay Shore plant consisting of a row of shutterlike panels called reverse louvers in the water of the plant's intake channel. The louvers are supposed to divert fish and their larvae away from the plant but critics claim the device is unproven. Lake Erie Waterkeeper also says the 24 days that Ohio EPA took to review the application for approving the permit to use the device was insufficient to truly assess the effectiveness of the device. 

In lashing out recently at the EPA's cooling water rules, the New York state clean water advocacy group Riverkeeper took particular aim at the Bay Shore plant:
There’s no better poster child for why a strong EPA cooling water rule is necessary than the FirstEnergy Bayshore Power Plant in Oregon, Ohio. In the absence of strong national standards from U.S. EPA, the Bayshore plant and a number of other plants ringing Lake Erie have been allowed to continue using once-through cooling. When operating at full capacity, the Bayshore plant sucks up over 700 million gallons of water per day in the middle of Maumee Bay in Western Lake Erie, the most productive fishery in the Great Lakes. You couldn’t pick a worse place to locate a power plant if you tried.
Citing the lackluster economy, low demand for power, and pending federal rules tightening emission standards, on August 12, 2010, FirstEnergy announced it was throttling back power production at three of four boilers at the Bay Shore Plant for the next three years. The largest Bay Shore unit, which burns petroleum coke from the nearby BP/Husky oil refinery, will continue operating.
As if the massive fish kills weren't enough, the increased water temperatures resulting from the Bay Shore's discharge into western Lake Erie is no doubt exacerbating the already serious algal bloom problem we've been reporting on in this blog.

Thermal plume from the Bay Shore plant as of 8-21-2002 (Gentner Consulting Group)
The focus on the massive fish kills at Bay Shore should, of course, not distract from what the plant puts into the air. In 2000 and again in 2004, the firm Abt Associates issued a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force quantifying the deaths and other health affects attributable to the fine particle pollution from these power plants. The report finds that over 13,000 deaths each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. power plants. An interactive map graphically displays the risk at various locations. Its easy to see that the greatest impact is in the midwest in the Ohio Valley region.

That sucks.

The Bay Shore plant raises questions far more profound the the simple killing of fish, as immediate and costly as that is. Clearly, we need energy, but at what cost? How important is it to have clean water and air? Its an important question. And its in your face.

Approaching Storm

I snapped these pics this evening of a storm approaching over Lake Erie. There is endless beauty in the cloud formations. From one minute to the next it never looks the same, as though the sky keeps repainting itself.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pop a cork for the Lake Erie Water Snake

Snakes throughout the Lake Erie Islands area are celebrating this week. Okay, I don't know how snakes celebrate, but they must be. Why, you ask?

The Lake Erie water snake is being removed from the federal government’s list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. At the same time, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife announced that it will be changing the status of the species from state endangered to state threatened. This reptile of has one of the smallest geographic distributions of any North American vertebrate and is found almost exclusively on the Lake Erie Islands.

In a statement released by ODNR, state Wildlife Diversity Coordinator Kendra Wecker said, "I cannot overemphasize how the partnership of government, university, conservation organizations, and private individuals allowed for this relatively rapid turnaround for the Lake Erie watersnake. The commitment of island landowners, our biologists, and particularly Kristin Stanford, our Lake Erie watersnake Recovery Coordinator, contributed to this great success. Only through this continued commitment will this remarkable recovery be sustained. The snake population on the islands will be monitored and we want to continue public outreach efforts.”

The Lake Erie water snake was listed as a federally threatened species in 1999, and elevated to state endangered status in 2000. The state cited three factors threatening the continued survival of this non-venomous species: small population size, habitat destruction, and direct mortality from people. Since then, according to ODNR, the Division of Wildlife, with the help of federal and private partners, has worked to secure habitat as well as inform and educate the public about this unique species. ODNR established a land management plan on all state-owned island properties to ensure enough suitable habitats were available for long-term conservation.

State Wildlife Grant funds were used to conduct research and surveys of the snake, help establish permanent conservation easements, and to inform and educate the public about this unique island reptile. As a result, the watersnake population has stabilized and flourished; population estimates of 8,000-plus adult Lake Erie watersnakes exceed the 5,555 snakes designated as a marker for recovery in the USFWS Recovery Plan for the species.

I'm no expert, but that seems like a lot of snakes. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gem Beach Pavilion in the 1920s

Those familiar with Gem Beach on Catawba Island may get a kick out of this old photo of the Gem Beach Pavilion from the 1920s. I was out there the other day and, of course, you'd never know that's where this shot was taken. It's amazing to see all those old cars!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Killing Cormorants

When I returned to the Lake Erie shore last year after an absence of several decades, one of the things that surprised me was the explosion in the number of cormorants that had taken place. In fact, I don't recall seeing any when I was a boy. Now they're so plentiful that for the past several years the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have been culling their numbers on three Lake Erie Islands. I wanted to find out why.

As it turns out, there was apparently a healthy supply of cormorants - specifically the double crested variety - back in the 1930s and 40s, but gradually, chemical contaminants in the environment caused fatal deformities and reproductive failures and these large, dark, fish-eating waterbirds had all but disappeared from the Great Lakes by mid-century.

But pollution controls led to a remarkable cormorant resurgence. On West Sister Island, Ohio's only chunk of federal protected wilderness, the cormorant population went from zero pairs in 1990 to 3,813 in 2005. Great colonies of great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, and great, snowy, and cattle egrets were threatened by the cormorant invasion.  The cormorant's high-nitrogen feces, or guano, burned up vegetation on the island and cormorant numbers as well have crowded out other, less prolific colonials. Cormorants also strip vegetation and break down trees.

On Ohio's tiny, 17-acre Green Island, a state wildlife refuge, cormorant numbers exploded from no pairs in 2003 to 857 by 2005. The ODNR's goal is to eliminate cormorants there entirely. Otherwise, officials fear, the island could be destroyed in another year or two.

Turning Point Island, a long manmade spit of about five acres in Sandusky harbor, had 409 pairs of cormorants a year ago, along with the lake's second-largest colony of black-crowned herons is situated there, along with a fledgling snowy egret colony. Officials want to cull about 40 cormorant nesting pairs there.

Nationwide, cormorant numbers have blossomed to about two million, with nearly 70 percent living in interior areas such as Ohio.

This was the fifth year for cormorant control efforts on West Sister, Green and Turning Point islands. This year nearly 2,200 of the fish-eating birds were killed with noise suppressed rifles in late April and early May before spring foliage took hold. Last year 2,300 cormorants were culled, and in 2008, the number was 2,600.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Western Lake Erie deluged with rain; Waterspout spotted off Catawba

Photo submitted to media outlet by nonymous source on August 6th.
It started this morning about 1:45 with a big gust of wind. Then the rains came. It's now 3pm and they're still coming. Not that it never rains all day, but this is different. This weather system seems to be parked over this end of the lake and it's raining proverbial cats and dogs, unaccompanied by lightening and thunder.

The Catawba Island tornado siren went off at around 10am. Then this just in from toledoonthemove. The story is by Elizabeth Reed.
The National Weather Service in Cleveland has issued a special marine warning for Maumee Bay to Willowick until 11 a.m. on Sunday. At 9:30 a.m., marine weather spotters reported a thunderstorm producing a waterspout northeast of Catawba Island moving northeast at 5 knots.
Scattered showers and thunderstorms from west to the islands east to Avon Point have the potential to produce additional waterspouts this morning.
Waterspouts can easily overturn boats and create locally hazardous seas. Seek safe harbor immediately.
What astounds me, though, is that no one, I mean, no one in media was putting out any special reports. Now normally the Cleveland and Toledo TV stations will at least run those banners across the screen or put this little maps in one corner of the screen. A call to a relative in Toledo revealed that it had rained just a bit but otherwise they had no inclement weather to speak of, which could explain the lack of reporting.

But it's sure raining here, and it shows no inclination to stop anytime soon.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Evening Kayakers

Updated Harmful Algal Bloom Bulletin issued for Western Lake Erie

Photo credit: NOAA
In the film Independence Day there is a scene in which the star, played by Will Smith, is in an aerial dogfight and is taking fire from an alien ship. With an alien craft on his tail he blurts out, "Oh no, you did not shoot that green shit at me!"

I sort of feel like we're in our own environmental version of Independence Day, except that the "green shit" is in Lake Erie and its being fired, not from alien ship, but from farm runoff and industrial and municipal waste. Have you seen this stuff? It's nasty!

Due to the persistence of what is termed a confirmed Microcystis bloom, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued an updated Harmful Algal Bloom Bulletin for western Lake Erie. We saw the first one of these just a week ago.

The NOAA bulletin reads in part: A large Microcystis bloom remains in Western Lake Erie. Models indicate an east-southeast transport that is likely to affect the Bass and Pelee Islands. Windy conditions over the past three days have likely caused subsurface mixing of the bloom. Water temperatures remain high and conducive to bloom intensification. Due to cloudy weather this week, the nowcast and forecast imagery do not represent the full possible extent of the bloom.

There are many species of single-celled organisms living in the Great Lakes, including algae. When certain conditions are present, such as high nutrient or light levels, these organisms can reproduce rapidly. This dense population of algae is called a bloom. Some of these blooms are harmless, but when the blooming organisms contain toxins, other noxious chemicals, or pathogens, it is known as a harmful algal bloom, or HAB. HAB's can cause the death of nearby fish and foul up nearby coastlines, and produce harmful conditions to aquatic life as well as humans.The focus of this research project is to determine the factors controlling microcystin production and to develop methods for determining cyanobacteria blooms from satellite imagery. Imagery is currently available, but we do not know how to discriminate toxic Microcystis blooms from other algal blooms within the images. The combined field data and satellite image data produced from the initial efforts of this project are critical first steps in the characterization of bloom dynamics and development of future bloom forecasting tools.

There is no single factor which causes an algal bloom. A combination of optimum factors such as the presence of good nutrients, warm temperatures and lots of light all encourage the natural increase in numbers of blue-green algae in our waterways. Nature mostly takes care of the temperature and light, but the increased presence of nutrients such as phosphorous is largely due to poor farming practices such as high use of fertilizers and presence of livestock near water supplies, as well as effluent and run-off from towns and cities near waterways. The ponding of water and reducing river flow rates tends to improve the light and sometimes the nutrient environment for algal growth making water turbulence a major factor in bloom development. Pesticides and other chemicals may affect the natural grazers which would otherwise control algal growth and their presence increases the risk of blooms.

An experimental HAB bulletin has been developed to provide a weekly forecast forMicrocystis blooms in western Lake Erie. When a harmful bloom is detected by the experimental system, scientists will issue the forecast bulletin below. The bulletin depicts the HABs’ current location and future movement, as well as categorizes its intensity on a weekly basis.

You can view the NOAA bulletin in PDF here. You can sign up to receive Harmful Algal Bloom Bulletins direct via email here. You can view a map of western Lake Erie Microcystis sampling stations and recent sample readings here.

I'll pass on the bulletins just as soon as I see them.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Freighters were no match for 1907 Lake Erie storm

I have this old postcard showing large lake freighters washed ashore during a storm on Lake in January of 1907 near Buffalo. I wanted to find out more about this storm that had unleashed so much fury so I did some google searching and found the following here:
On January 20, 1907, gale force winds swept Lake Erie. The winds were clocked in access of eighty-four miles per hour. For twenty-four hours, the winds whipped the inland sea into a frothy mix of foam and spray. When the storm had finished spewing its contents over the Niagara Frontier, it ended, retreating to the icy waters from which it had sprung. In its wake, the storm left the Buffalo harbor and port with a million dollars in damage. The beach of the Life Saving Station was littered with debris and stranded ships. Two huge lake ships, the Hurlburt W. Smith and the William Nottingham were stranded on the sandy shores. In the process, the Nottingham smashed into the hull of the Smith, sustaining major damage. Three people died in the collapse of buildings and one life was lost when drowned in the angry lake storm.
I wonder: what kind of damage that kind of storm would cause today?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Benson Ford Shiphouse to be featured on MTV

The Benson Ford Shiphouse will be featured Friday on MTV's new spin-off program "Extreme Cribs," according to the Port Clinton News-Herald.

The newest edition to the "MTV Cribs" franchise, "Extreme Cribs" is a 16-episode series that will showcase homes with peculiar features and design quirks that are unique, unusual, alternative and extreme. From scaling living spaces suspended in tree tops to crawling through cozy caverns built inside caves, viewers will be whisked away to the doorsteps of some of the most distinctive dwellings across the globe and meet the families who call these places home.

Friday's episode of the program will include a segment on Put-in-Bay's Benson Ford Shiphouse, owned by Bryan and Emily Kasper, of Sandusky. [read more here]

This house has a huge cool factor. The owner has a really neat website that has the house's history, floor plans, and lots of photos. Check out the site here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What's It All About, Algae? Meet the Dead Zone!

Algae bloom is represented by green color seen in the western basin.  European Space Agency/NOAA Photo
As reported in Sunday's Toledo Blade, a huge bloom of potentially toxic microcystis algae, which has reared its ugly head almost annually since 1995 after more than a 20-year absence, has been visible from space since at least July 22. European Space Agency satellite photos (one example shown above) show it fanning out toward the Lake Erie islands.

Although the lakes always have small, natural concentrations of algae, heavy spring rain and near-record phosphorus runoff from farms and sewage networks, combined with dry, intense heat and stagnant air of recent weeks, are the likely driving forces behind the bloom.

A Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom Bulletin issued by NOAA on July 28 said the microcystis concentration in the algae is 500 times greater than the World Health Organization’s standard (20 micrograms per liter) for recreational water.
Not all microcystis contains the deadly toxin microcystin. It is not known how much, if any, of the current bloom has that toxin. If it does, the potential health effects are serious.

Algae choked beach on Catawba Island
But problems associated with phosphorus runoff are not confined to Lake Erie's Western Basin. Stand by for The Dead Zone. No, I'm not referring to the Dead Zone of the Stephen King novel, nor do I mean the movie or TV series of the same name. No I'm referring to the dead zone in Lake Erie.

In recent decades, the bottom waters in the Central Basin of Lake Erie have become anoxic in the late summer. Anoxic means without oxygen. Aquatic creatures, including fish and bottom-dwelling animals, need oxygen in the water to live or they suffocate. The fish may be able to swim to better waters, but most of the other animals cannot. Commercial fishermen of the Central Basin are all too familiar with the dead zone.

The reasons for this annual dead zone were, at first, unclear. So, in June 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in cooperation with many universities and other agencies in the United States and Canada, began an intensive special study to determine the cause of the oxygen depletion in Central Lake Erie.
The study concluded that while the unique configuration of Lake Erie's Central Basin is largely responsible for the problem, too many nutrients, especially phosphorus, make the problem much worse. Most of the excess phosphorus comes from human activities, including sewage treatment plants and agriculture. This animation gives a simplified explanation of how oxygen depletion develops:

The EPA monitors oxygen depletion levels in Lake Erie by taking samplings and doing surveys, primarily from its vessel, Lake Guardian, the only self-contained, non-polluting research vessel on the Great Lakes.

The problems of algae blooms in western Lake Erie and the dead zone in the central basin of the lake are going to be with us for the foreseeable future. These problems are going to require solutions - and vigilance. At a time when funding is becoming scarcer by the year and some politicians suggest killing or at least gutting the EPA and other environmental agencies, the answers are not going to be easy to come by.

Swimming Across Lake Erie

Miguel Vadillo swimming Lake Ontario, August 2010 (Photo credit: Toronto Star)

If there is a body of water, no matter how wide, someone will try to swim it. A recent article told of a 13-year-old boy, Santiago Vadillo, who wants to swim across Lake Erie.

It seems that last August Santiago's father, Miguel, completed a successful swim across Lake Ontario (see above photo) and that has inspired the son to attempt a similar swim across Erie. There's only one problem: A Canadian organization charged with approving cross-lake swims says he can't do it. The group, Solo Swims of Ontario Inc., (SSO) ensures that people make the swim across the Great Lakes safely.

The SSO was created in 1974 following the death of 17-year-old Neil MacNeil. It seems MacNeil was attempting to swim from Youngstown, New York to Toronto, Ontario, when he became separated from his pace swimmer, and the accompanying boat. A coroner's jury concluded that the factors contributing to the unfortunate incident were an overloaded boat, lack of boating, swimming or navigational experience, youthful exuberance, and lack of organization and recommended that the Canadian Ministry of Community Services establish and fund a governing body for the regulation of long distance swims. Enter the SSO.

Which brings us back to Santiago Vadillo. The SSO says the minimum age for a swimmer is 14. Santiago doesn't turn 14 until October 8th, so for months, the Vadillos have tried to convince the SSO to make an exception allowing him to swim earlier, while the water is warmer during the summer. So far the SSO has not wavered. He could make the swim without SSO sanction but the results would not be recognized, and he wants official recognition for his swim, so Santiago will wait until next May or June to make his swim. If successful, he'll be the youngest person to do so.

A list of successful Lake Erie swims makes for interesting reading. In July 2008, Jade Scognamillo became the youngest person to swim across Lake Erie in five hours, 40 minutes and 35 seconds. She was 14 at the time. A year later, Scognamillo became the youngest swimmer to swim across Lake Ontario, making the crossing in 19 hours, 59 minutes and 51 seconds.

Oh, to be 14 again.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Lake Erie kayakers require help

A pair of kayakers in Lake Erie about a mile east of the Kelleys Island airport got a ride back to land after their kayak capsized Thursday afternoon, according to a spokeswoman for the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office.

A call came in just after 2 p.m. reporting at least one person in the water, according to emergency radio communications.

The Ottawa County Sheriff's Office Dive Team was dispatched to the area, the spokeswoman said.

"Our rescue boat went out and picked them up and put them on land," the spokeswoman said. [read more here]

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Perfect Evening on Lake Erie

If there was ever a perfect evening on Lake Erie, the one this evening was it. I went for an evening walk just before sunset.The sky was clear except for a few random clouds here and there. The cloud cover and rain from earlier in the day - all gone. A stiff breeze out of the northwest brought a welcome cool breeze. Everywhere I went along the shoreline people were sitting out in lawn chairs, or whatever they had, letting the lake winds wash over them, preparing for the magnificent sunset soon to come. And come it did. When I got back to the house I grabbed my camera and went out to the beach. These photos are the result. I hope everyone enjoys them.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

1 Dead, 2 Injured in Ballast Island Mishap

The Coast Guard has identified Jennifer Ulisse of Kelleys Island as the person killed when a 27-foot pleasure boat slammed into a break wall near Ballast Island about 10:30 pm Tuesday. The crash also injured two others. Ms. Ulisse was pronounced dead at the scene. She was a passenger in the boat. Donald Dunn of Put-in-Bay, the operator, and Tina Callari of Lakewood, Ohio, another passenger, were taken to an unidentified area hospital. The victims were not wearing life jackets, officers said. The exact cause and circumstances of the incident off Ballast Island was unknown. The area was reportedly experiencing storms and waves of about 3 feet. The Coast Guard happened to have a vessel in the area and responded quickly. recovering the two injured people and finding Ms. Ulisse unresponsive in the water. The accident remains under investigation.

Ballast Island is located east of Middle Bass Island and northeast of Put-in-Bay in the Sandusky islands chain. The island received its name when commodore Oliver Hazard Perry used rocks from this island, according to legend, to ballast his ships. You can read more about the history of the Ballast Island here. There is a nice blog posting about Ballast Island in earlier times here. The island even has a Facebook page.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bacteria not keeping people off Port Clinton beach

PORT CLINTON -- Although the city beach in Port Clinton has been posted with high bacteria level advisories on 18 days this swimming season, that hasn't kept folks from enjoying the public access to Lake Erie.

Tom and Renee Andrzejewski, visiting from Buffalo, sat in lawn chairs beneath a shade tree at the city beach Monday while family members waded offshore. They both said they did not see the warning sign, which is permanently posted at the beach.

"I would be concerned," said Tom Andrzejewski, "I wouldn't be swimming in it." [read more]

Monday, August 1, 2011

Agricultural pollution blamed for Lake Erie blooms, fish woes

The algae is back, and this time the culprit is not, sewage treatment plants, industrial plants and phosphate-rich laundry detergent but farmers. That's according to this article on by D'Arcy Egan of the Plain Dealer.
In recent years, farmers have been planting more corn to take advantage of high prices driven by the production of ethanol. They are loading fields with phosphate-rich fertilizer to enhance yields. As a result, silt, sediment and fertilizer are finding their way into the Lake Erie watershed. The problem is compounded by the U.S. Corps of Engineers dumping massive amounts of nutrient-rich sediment dredged from the Maumee River into Lake Erie.
The most immediate effect is on fishing. The algae sucks vital oxygen from the lake at lower depth and that drives the fish, notably perch and walleye closer to the surface.
Anglers are finding large numbers of walleye in surprisingly shallow water from Huron to Vermilion where oxygen levels are normal, but not in deeper waters a few miles offshore, where catches had been very good a month ago. In some areas, anglers are finding yellow perch suspending well off the bottom, despite most of their preferred forage is found close to the lake bottom.
I saw a swarm of anglers this past Saturday just to the northwest of Kelly's Island and wonder whether they were catching perch and walleye closer to the surface than normal. As Egan points out, "Unfortunately for Lake Erie anglers who favor perch, walleye and smallmouth bass, the species of fish that do well in eutrophic waters are sheepshead, channel catfish, white bass and white perch."

Veto of Great Lakes bill may face override vote

Here's a Toledo Blade update on HB 231, the bill vetoed by Ohio Governor Kasich that :
House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) said Thursday that an override of Gov. John Kasich’s veto of a business-backed bill dealing with water withdrawals from Lake Erie remains a possibility...Mr. Batchelder said he plans to write a letter to Mr. Kasich asking for direction in another attempt to write between the lines of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact signed by eight states and Congress and agreed to by two Canadian provinces. In the meantime, the threat of a possible veto override vote remains. “Nothing’s on the table or off the table as far as I’m concerned,” Mr. Batchelder said. “My concern is that we want to make sure that we’re going to move forward to protect the lake, and at this point I’m not sure what that means.”
Moving forward to protect the lake? Is he kidding? Did he actually read HB 231?  This is the bill that failed to pass the smell test for two former Republican governors, and faced the threat of a possible lawsuit from at least two other Great Lakes states.

What are these guys smoking in Columbus?