WASAGA BEACH — The piping plovers have returned to Wasaga Beach with a record of five nesting pairs.

“We’ve never had five nests at Beach Area One before. It’s usually two or three nests,” said Patricia Davidson, a biologist and piping plover co-ordinator for Wasaga Beach Provincial Park and Friends of Nancy Island.

Piping plovers were locally extinct (extirpated), so every egg laid is important.

“Prior to 2007 there hadn’t been a nest in Ontario in 70 years,” said Davidson.

The entire Great Lakes region only had 60 breeding pairs of birds in the 1980s. That number has improved to 75 breeding pairs, but the species is still endangered.

“There are more elephants in the wild than there are piping plovers,” she said.

Efforts to bring back the species started at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park in 2008 with a single pair.

Last year 13 chicks hatched and nine survived. Nine chicks also survived in 2014.

There are two primary protected nesting sites; Wasaga Beach and Sauble Beach.

And to the delight of Davidson, there is now a single pair nesting at Darlington Provincial Park with one of the adults coming from Wasaga Beach.

“I think it’s really neat that the chicks hatch, fledge and fly off and they are establishing new nest sites,” said Davidson, who is in her fifth year on the project.

The fencing off of the east section of Beach Area One makes all the difference to the survival of the birds because the habitat they require is a long beach (between the water line and dunes) which happens to be Beach Area One.

Additionally, they lay their eggs out in the open.

“Their nests are smack dab where you would lay your beach towel. With a busy beach like Wasaga where they lay their eggs would be stepped on by everybody, which is why we have to close off the section.

“If we didn’t have the program and the volunteer coverage and help from staff, piping plovers would not be able to nest at this beach through the sheer numbers of people at Wasaga Beach.”

“It’s our duty to step in and share the beach with them,” said Davidson.

Human encroachment extends beyond pedestrian traffic to the raking of the beach and destruction of dunes. Beyond that eggs and chicks are food for predators including weasels, foxes and gulls and they are vulnerable to storms and high water washing away the nests.

Fencing was erected May 10 and will remain up until the end of August. Birds have paired up and are now laying clutches of eggs, typically four. Hatching takes place in mid June and birds fledge and leave the area in August.

About 40 people are volunteering to watch the bird’s behaviour and educate the public, but more volunteers are welcome.

Anyone interested including high school students needing volunteer hours, should contact Davidson through email wasagaplover@gmail.com or at 705-429-2516.


Read more about piping plovers in The Dynamic Great Lakes




Lake Michigan Beach

May 30, 2013

Lake Michigan Beach

The Water is Cold

The water is cold in Lake Michigan but kids do not seem to mind it. This snapshot was taken on the beach in Grand Haven, Michigan. Here the freshwater seas may be cold, but there is always the sand to play in, build castles or just enjoy the lake breezes.


Expansion of Quagga Mussels in Lake Michigan Adds to Food Web Uncertainties

During spring sampling in southern Lake Michigan, University of Michigan biologist David Jude unexpectedly hauled in several trawl nets filled with invasive quagga mussels (Dreissena bugensis). A 10-minute trawl at a depth of 100 meters near Muskegon resulted in 11 tubs of the small mussels weighing an estimated 315 pounds.

At another location 30 miles offshore, underwater cameras allowed Jude and colleagues aboard the R/V Laurentian to see firsthand how the invasive mussels have multiplied there since 1999, when none were present. “It was just astounding,” says Jude. “It was a complete carpet of quagga mussels as far as you could see.”

Quagga mussels, a close relative of zebra mussels, have gradually increased in Lake Michigan over the past five years and have expanded their range to deep, offshore waters uninhabited by zebra mussels. Their abundance and expansion raises concerns about long-term effects on the lake’s deepwater food web.

Like zebra mussels, each quagga mussel filters about 1 liter of water per day, removing vast amounts of phytoplankton (mostly algae) and depleting the food supply for native zooplankton and bottom-dwelling organisms, which in turn provide food for many species of fish.

Denizens of the Deep Quagga mussels can tolerate colder water than zebra mussels and are found more frequently in softer sediments. These qualities have allowed quagga mussels to expand their range, and they’ve been found at depths of 150 meters (450 feet), according to scientist Tom Nalepa of the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL).

Nalepa recently finished quantifying mussels collected in 2005. He notes that out of 160 sites sampled, quagga mussels were dominant at every location where mussels were found. Nalepa estimates that 98 percent of mussels collected in 2000 were zebra mussels; by 2005, 98 percent were quagga mussels. “It was a complete switch,” he says. “They’ve virtually replaced zebra mussels. For them to be that dominant over the entire lake is surprising.”

Their dominance may be due in part to several traits. Quagga mussels appear to have bioenergetic and reproductive advantages over zebra mussels. They have a lower metabolic rate and thinner shells. Scientists suspect they’re able to direct more energy toward growth and reproduction, allowing them to out-compete zebra mussels.

The explosion of quagga mussels comes at a time when the Lake Michigan food web is already stressed. With the introduction of zebra mussels in the early 1990s came a sharp decline in the shrimp-like organism Diporeia, a nutritious food source for many fish. The average abundance of Diporeia dropped from about 5,200 per square meter in 1994/95 to 1,800 by 2000.

Nalepa, who has been monitoring the decline of Diporeia as part of long-term lake wide studies conducted by GLERL, notes that the decline in 2005 is even more dramatic. The average abundance in 2005 is now only 300 per square meter. With quagga mussels becoming more abundant, says Nalepa, Diporeia has declined in deeper waters, and areas of the lake with no Diporeia have expanded greatly.

Food for Thought               Due in part to the disappearance of Diporeia, some fish species have switched to alternate food sources. According to Jude, two important Lake Michigan forage fish, slimy and deepwater sculpin, have shifted their diets from mostly Diporeia toward more fish eggs, insects and Mysis (opossum shrimp).

With Michigan Sea Grant funding, Jude is examining the food web impacts on sculpin in relation to the decline in Diporeia, which began following the introduction of zebra mussels. Jude also reports that slimy sculpin, usually found in waters less than 50 meters deep, are now being found in the deepest parts of the southern Lake Michigan basin.

Commercially important lake whitefish are also consuming alternate food sources, primarily Mysis, chironomids (larval insects), and shelled prey including zebra mussels and now quagga mussels, according to GLERL ecologist Steve Pothoven.

He notes that approximately 40 percent of the diet of lake whitefish in southern Lake Michigan is now composed of quagga mussels. Energetically, says Pothoven, quagga mussels are not any worse than zebra mussels, but “neither is good.” Pothoven, who has been monitoring a decline in the physical condition of whitefish for several years, says that smaller, thinner fish may be due in part to sustained high numbers of whitefish and increased competition for food.

Impacts of quagga mussels on other fish species, particularly larval life stages that depend on a healthy zooplankton population, are still unfolding. “It’s important now to keep an eye on offshore productivity. We now have a filter feeder offshore that wasn’t there before,” says Pothoven. “We need to see how it affects the lower food web.”






The Freshwater Seas

September 27, 2010

On Planet Earth the Great Lakes are absolutely unique. They are freshwater seas and we need to protect them and their tributaries and the groundwater that is part of the system. Fresh water is very precious for the life it supports including people.

Enbridge, a Canadian Oil company, is responsible for a broken oil pipeline that is gushing oil into the Kalamazoo River.  If the toxic oil reaches Lake Michigan 80 miles away, it would be a disaster of tremendous proportions for all living things in and around the water.  I am heartsick about this.

The Great Lakes support an array of life including the people who depend on it for drinking water and for domestic, industrial, recreational and agricultural uses. 

There is an unparalled sports fishery for salmon and other fishes. I hope the EPA can prevent the oil from reaching Lake Michigan.  These waters flow into Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.  It’s the greatest freshwater system on this planet.

Update:  The EPA stepped in to contain the spill before it reached Lake Michigan.  The oil spill has destroyed property along the Kalamazoo River, wildlife and marshes.  This should not have happened.

Pending Legislation

Update September 21, 2010. Looks like a pipeline is being proposed to go through the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge again: http://michiganmessenger.com/42060/state-approves-work-on-oil-pipeline-under-mackinac-straits

 Legislation in Washington is now being considered by the House and the Senate to close the locks connecting the Chicago shipping canals from Lake Michigan.  Listen to a speech made by Senator Debbie Stabenaw in favor of new legislation.



Summer on the Beach

June 26, 2010

On the Beach in Grand Haven, MILucky kids.  Playing in the sand is just great on West Michigan beaches.

Read about the special qualities of sand beaches in my book, the Dynamic Great Lakes.


The Dynamic Great Lakes, a critically acclaimed non-fiction book as published in the Michigan Environmental Report, vol 20, number 3

What prompted you to write The Dynamic Great Lakes?

I was inspired by a speech I heard while at a writer’s conference in Aspen, Colorado. N. Scott Momaday, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The House Made of Dawn, gave a speech on the importance of landscape. When I came home, it occurred to me that my landscape is a waterscape–the Great Lakes system. With this thought, I began to work on The Dynamic Great Lakes. The importance of the Great Lakes is not always appreciated. I wanted people to appreciate them.

Who is the intended audience for the book and who might enjoy reading it?

I wrote The Dynamic Great Lakes with a general audience in mind. I spent a lot of time searching for and up-to-date book about the Great Lakes and I could not find one. I believe my book is important because it shows the Great Lakes and their connecting waters in relation to each other; it shows the lakes in relation to their unique dunes and wetlands and to their biota. The Great Lakes are about 20% of all the fresh surface water on this planet. I wanted to make people aware of how precious this freshwater is and how vulnerable. I want people to feel concerned about how these lakes and their web of life is faring.

Do you think Michiganians generally are knowledgeable about the Great Lakes?

Someone who has lived by Lake Michigan all of his life read my book and said, “I have been taking these lakes for granted.” I believe that people in Michigan and the other Great Lakes states and provinces need to know more about the Great Lakes so they will be in a better position to make good decisions about them. The Great Lakes will become more and more important as our population grows and the people are asked to vote for candidates who will either understand the issues and care for the lakes with future generations in mind, or those who would exploit them for short term gains.

What are your earliest memories of the Lakes?

My earliest memory of the Great Lakes–I must have been about 7–was a trip with my family around Lake Superior’s rocky shore. I still remember how awed I felt when I first viewed the largest of the Great Lakes and felt its icy water. My father woke us all up one morning proudly displaying a string of brook trout he had caught from a tributary stream to Lake Superior. We had them for breakfast. Just delicious.

If you were czar(ina) of the Great Lakes, what is the single most important thing you would do for them?

I would develop energy sources that do not threaten the environment. I would phase out the 37 aging nuclear power plants in the Great Lakes watershed and find a way to store atomic wastes in a place where it has no chance of getting into water. That would be my decree. I would hire the best minds to work on this daunting problem and I would tell them to do it will all haste.

Great Lakes Watersheds

October 2, 2009

Great Lakes States and WatershedsHere is a map showing the Great Lakes states, and provinces and their watersheds. The U.S. and Canada share these waters except for Lake Michigan that is within the U.S.

Read more about this water system in my book, The Dynamic Great Lakes.  Right now the best price may be found at Amazon.com.

Freshwater Seas

September 13, 2009

The Freshwater SeasOnly a little time left to enjoy Great Lakes beaches.  The weather has been beautiful and many are making the most of it.

Salmon fishing is good this time of year with catches of coho, king and steelhead.