Float your carbon free boat: Solar-powered service aims to revolutionize recreational boating

Read the full story at Centered.

As fall progresses and the cold Midwest winter approaches, boating might not be top-of-mind. But here’s something to look forward to when the weather is favorable: a new “carbon-free shared recreational boating service” in Saugatuck, Michigan.

Last year, the founders launched startup Lilypad after toying around with the concept for years. Users rent six-person, low-speed watercraft that operate on solar power, with lithium-ion phosphate batteries for reserve power. The idea is to give more people easy, affordable access to Michigan’s waterways while reducing traditional watersports’ carbon impact.

Nonprofit buys 31,000 forested acres by Copper Harbor to keep land public

Read the full story at Bridge Michigan.

The Nature Conservancy will buy more than 31,000 acres in the Keweenaw Peninsula, keeping it open to the public. Locals had feared losing access to the forest land after hedge fund owners put the land up for sale. The purchase comes as a flourishing outdoor recreation scene fuels change in the Keweenaw.

Building consensus for prioritizing groundwater protections in the Great Lakes

Read the full story from the International Joint Commission.

Water flows through a single cycle from air to surface water and groundwater, or from land to lakes and streams, evaporating and beginning its journey all over again. But environmental law and policy often overlook an entire arc of the cycle, regulating groundwater separately and increasing the potential for risks to public health and ecosystem degradation. 

The 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is beginning to change that. One important step forward is the inclusion of an annex devoted to groundwater. Annex 8 commits the Canadian and United States governments to coordinating groundwater science and management actions. The goal is to build the base of knowledge about the impact of groundwater on the Great Lakes, leading to specific policy and science actions.

The Great Lakes are awash in plastic. Can robots and drones help?

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

These remote-control devices raise the profile about the growing problem of plastics in the lakes that provide one-fifth of the world’s freshwater.

Strategies for Adapting Great Lakes Coastal Ecosystems to Climate Change

Download the document.

Strategies for Adapting Great Lakes Coastal Ecosystems to Climate Change presents a menu of adaptation actions to help practitioners move from general concepts to tangible, targeted adaptation tactics for their system. This menu draws on a wide range of literature and contemporary reports, in addition to the expertise of regional managers and scientists convened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science. It can be used along with a structured decision-making process like the Adaptation Workbook and can be applied to a variety of situations on Great Lakes coasts to accommodate diverse management goals, geographic settings, and site conditions. The menu was tested with several organizations in project-level planning in the Great Lakes watershed.

Michigan anglers fear fishing deal with tribes could hurt their interests

Read the full story at Bridge Michigan.

Recreational and charter fishing groups want a voice in negotiations over Great Lakes fishing rights, a new sign of tension in negotiations between state regulators and tribes over waters that are dramatically changing.

Researchers race to understand what lies beneath the Great Lakes

Read the full story at Bridge Michigan.

Scientists say we have more robust data about the surface of Mars than the floor of the Great Lakes. A new effort spearheaded by academics and government aims to map the entire Great Lakes lakebed. Experts say the data is crucial to understanding the lakes, particularly as climate change and other threats bring rapid changes.

The westward spread of zebra and quagga mussels shows how tiny invaders can cause big problems

A boat propeller encrusted with zebra mussels. NPS/Flickr

by Christine Keiner, Rochester Institute of Technology

The zebra mussel has been a poster child for invasive species ever since it unleashed economic and ecological havoc on the Great Lakes in the late 1980s. Yet despite intensive efforts to control it and its relative, the quagga mussel, these fingernail-sized mollusks are spreading through U.S. rivers, lakes and bays, clogging water supply pipes and altering food webs.

Now, the mussels threaten to reach the country’s last major uninfested freshwater zones to the west and north: the Columbia River Basin in Washington and Oregon, and the waterways of Alaska.

As an environmental historian, I study how people’s attitudes toward nonindigenous species have changed over time. Like many other aquatic aliens, zebra and quagga mussels spread to new bodies of water when people move them, either accidentally or deliberately. Human-built structures, such as canals, and debris can also help invaders bypass natural barriers.

In my view, reducing the damage from these outbreaks – and preventing them if possible – requires understanding that human activities are the root cause of costly biological invasions.

Map showing zebra and quagga mussel distribution in 2021.
Zebra and quagga mussels have moved east, south and west from the Great Lakes into many other U.S. rivers and lakes. USGS

Past transoceanic invasions

European exploration of the Americas between the late 1400s and 1700s led to massive transfers of organisms, a process known as the Columbian exchange, named for Christopher Columbus. Many investors grew rich through shipping livestock and plantation crops across the oceans. Transatlantic travel also introduced microbes that caused infectious diseases, such as smallpox and measles, that killed millions of Native Americans who lacked immunity.

During the 19th century, European and North American colonizers established acclimatization societies to import desired species of foreign animals and plants to use for food, sport hunting or beautifying their environments. Many such efforts failed when the introduced species could not adapt to their new conditions and died off.

Others triggered legendary ecological disasters. For example, after the Victorian Acclimatisation Society released European rabbits in Australia in 1859, they multiplied rapidly. Feral rabbits and other introduced species like cats have destroyed millions of Australia’s native plants and animals.

Shipping has also accidentally spread alien species. Human-built canals made it easier to transport goods, but also provided new pathways for aquatic pests.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for example, Canada expanded the Welland Canal between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to allow large ships to bypass Niagara Falls. By 1921, these technological improvements enabled the sea lamprey, a parasitic fish, to move from Lake Ontario into the upper Great Lakes, where it is still a serious threat to commercial fisheries.

In 1959, the U.S. and Canada opened the St. Lawrence Seaway, a maritime network that connects the Atlantic with the Great Lakes. Ocean-going ships using the seaway brought along stowaway species in ballast water – tanks full of water, used to keep the ships stable at sea.

Water pours from an outlet on a large bulk carrier vessel's bow into the harbor.
A ship berthed in Southampton, England, discharges ballast water. Peter Titmuss/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When ships reached their destinations and flushed out their ballast tanks, they released alien plants, crustaceans, worms, bacteria and other organisms into local waters. In a milestone 1985 study, Williams College biologist Jim Carlton described how ballast water discharges provided a powerful vehicle for biological invasions.

The Great Lakes mussel invasion

Zebra mussels are native to the Black and Caspian Seas. They are thought to have entered North America in the early 1980s and were formally identified in the Great Lakes in 1988, followed by quagga mussels in 1989.

Soon the striped bivalves were blanketing hard surfaces throughout the lakes and washing up on shorelines, cutting beachgoers’ feet. Zebra mussels clogged intake pipes at drinking water treatment plants, power stations, fire hydrants and nuclear reactors, dangerously reducing water pressure and requiring expensive remedies.

Mollusks are filter feeders that typically make water clearer. But zebra and quagga mussels filtered so much plankton from the water that they starved native mussels and fostered harmful algal blooms. The invaders also passed deadly type E botulism to fish-eating birds.

By the early 1990s, 139 alien species had become established in the Great Lakes, with almost one-third arriving after the St. Lawrence Seaway opened. Ship-related introductions, along with other pathways, such as aquaculture and aquarium and bait fish releases, transformed the Great Lakes into one of the world’s most invaded freshwater ecosystems.

Local officials grapple with a spreading infestation of zebra mussels in Lake Brownwood in central Texas.

Early policy responses

The U.S. began regulating ballast water management in 1990 but had trouble closing loopholes. For instance, vessels declaring that they had no pumpable ballast water on board did not have to empty and refill their ballast tanks in the middle of a voyage with clean ocean water. As a result, live freshwater organisms lurking in tank sediments could still be released in vulnerable ports.

Finally, after comprehensive studies, the U.S. and Canada in 2006 required ships to flush tanks containing residual sediment with seawater. A 2019 assessment found that only three new species became established in the Great Lakes from 2006-2018, none of them via ship ballast.

Now, however, other human activities are increasingly contributing to harmful freshwater introductions – and with shipping regulated, the main culprits are thousands of private boaters and anglers.

Stemming the westward spread

Zebra and quagga mussels are moving west and south from the Great Lakes, attached to private boats or carried in bilge water and bait buckets. They have been found in Nevada, Arizona, California, Utah, Colorado and Montana.

If the mussels reach the Columbia River ecosystem, they will threaten native wildlife and irrigation pipelines and dams that are vital for agriculture and hydropower. Government officials, wildlife managers and scientists are working hard to prevent that from happening.

Public outreach is critical. Travelers who transport their boats without decontaminating them can transfer zebra and quagga mussels to inland rivers and lakes. The mussels can survive out of water in hot places for weeks, so it’s important for boaters and anglers to clean, drain and dry boating equipment and fishing gear.

Aquarium keepers can help stem the tide by disinfecting tanks and accessories in order to prevent accidental releases of live organisms into public waterways, and by being vigilant about their purchases. In 2021, zebra mussels were detected in imported moss balls sold as aquarium plants across the U.S. and Canada.

The U.S. Geological Survey maintains a website where people can report sightings of nonindigenous aquatic species, potentially spotting new infestations during the critical early phase before they become established.

Maintaining public support

Some of these efforts have shown encouraging results. Since 2008, Colorado has operated a rigorous boat inspection program that has kept zebra and quagga mussels out of state waters.

But prevention isn’t always popular. Officials closed the San Justo Reservoir in central California to the public in 2008 after zebra mussels were found there; residents argue that the closure has harmed the community and are lobbying the federal government to eradicate the mussels in order to reopen it for fishing.

Mitigating the destructive effects of invasive species is a complex mission that may not have an obvious endpoint. It requires scientific, technological and historical knowledge, political will and skill to persuade the public that everyone is part of the solution.

Christine Keiner, Chair, Department of Science, Technology, and Society, Rochester Institute of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Industries and public water supplies top list of main consumers of Great Lakes water

Read the full story at Great Lakes Now.

Overall water usage in the Great Lakes is dropping, largely due to water conservation and management efforts, according to the Great Lakes Commission’s most recent water use report.

The GLC compiles annual water use data, a stipulation outlined in the 2008 regional water use agreement known as the Great Lakes Compact. In its most recent water use report, the GLC outlines the following jurisdictions as the top five users of Great Lakes water: Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York and then Minnesota.

Two habitat restoration and coastal resilience funding opportunities open under Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, one focused on underserved communities

NOAA Fisheries is announcing two funding opportunities for habitat restoration and coastal resilience, including one focused on underserved communities. Funding has been made available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  

Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Grants

Up to $85 million in funding is available for habitat restoration and coastal resilience through the FY2022 NOAA’s Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Grants Notice of Funding Opportunity.

This funding will support transformational projects that restore habitat for our nation’s fisheries and protected resources, while also strengthening the resilience of coastal communities and ecosystems. It will invest in projects that have the greatest potential to provide holistic benefits, through habitat-based approaches that strengthen both ecosystem and community resilience.

Projects selected through this opportunity will help:

  • Restore marine, estuarine, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems
  • Rebuild sustainable fisheries and contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species 
  • Protect the safety and well-being of coastal communities by using natural infrastructure to reduce damage from flooding and storms
  • Support the many benefits that healthy habitats provide, such as clean drinking water and industries like boating, fishing, and tourism

NOAA will accept proposals between $1 million and $15 million total over the award period. The application deadline is September 6, 2022.

Coastal Habitat Restoration and Resilience Grants for Underserved Communities

Up to $10 million in funding is available for habitat restoration and resilience awards for underserved communities though NOAA’s FY2022 Coastal Habitat Restoration and Resilience Grants for Underserved Communities Notice of Funding Opportunity

Through this funding, NOAA will engage underserved communities in habitat restoration activities that promote resilient ecosystems and communities. This funding will provide capacity for these communities to more fully participate in developing future transformational habitat projects.  This capacity is intended to ensure that communities are integral to the visioning and decision-making for coastal habitat restoration projects that affect them, and that they directly benefit from these projects.  

Projects selected through this opportunity may include: 

  • Capacity building activities, including participation in municipal or regional-scale resilience planning, project planning and feasibility studies, stakeholder engagement, and proposal development for future funding.
  • Restoration activities, including demonstration projects, engineering and design, permitting, and on-the-ground implementation.

NOAA will accept proposals between $75,000 to $1 million total over the award period. The application deadline is September 30, 2022.

Habitat Restoration and NOAA

NOAA invests in habitat restoration across the country to support our nation’s fisheries and protected resources, while also strengthening the resilience of coastal communities and ecosystems. Efforts like restoring coastal wetlands and removing outdated dams can improve coastal resilience—helping communities recover from and adapt to the impacts of extreme weather and climate change. 

NOAA’s Office of Habitat Conservation has a long history conducting habitat restoration efforts with large-scale competitive funding opportunities and expert technical assistance through its Community-based Restoration Program. Since 1996, the program has partnered with more than 2,600 organizations to take on more than 2,200 projects. These efforts have restored more than 93,000 acres of habitat and opened up more than 4,400 miles of streams and rivers to fish migration. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law presents an once-in-a-generation opportunity for NOAA to continue making an impact for fisheries, protected resources, and coastal communities.