Ten Threats: Closing a Door

  • Coast Guard Marine Science Technician Sheridan McClellan demonstrates some of the equipment used to check the ballast water of foreign ships. Environmentalists believe the Coast Guard should be given the equipment and authority to more thoroughly check the ships for invasive species in ballast water. (Photo by Lester Graham)

In this “Ten Threats to the Great Lakes” series, we found experts across the region point to alien invasive species as the number one challenge facing the Lakes. The Great Lakes have changed dramatically because of non-indigenous species that compete for food and space with native fish and organisms. More than 160 foreign aquatic species have been introduced since the Lakes were opened to shipping from overseas. It’s believed that many of the invasive species hitched a ride in the ballast tanks of ocean-going cargo ships.

Transcript

Today we’ll hear more about Ten Threats to the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham has the next report in the series:


In this “Ten Threats to the Great Lakes” series, we found experts across the region point to alien invasive species as the number one challenge facing the Lakes. The Great Lakes have changed dramatically because of non-indigenous species that compete for food and space with native fish and organisms. More than 160 foreign aquatic species have been introduced since the Lakes were opened to shipping from overseas. It’s believed that many of the invasive species hitched a ride in the ballast tanks of ocean-going cargo ships.


Foreign ships entering the Great Lakes are boarded and inspected in Montreal, long before the ships enter U.S. Waters. Sheridan McClellan is a marine science technician with the U.S. Coast Guard. He says inspectors take samples of the ballast water and test it onboard ship. He demonstrates the equipment at the Coast Guard lab in Massena, New York.


MCCLELLAN: “And when you look through this refractometer, if you look on the right hand side, you will see the salinity… If you’d like to look through it…”


GRAHAM: “Oh, yeah. I see.”


MCCLELLAN: “You see a line?”


GRAHAM: “Right.”


The inspectors want to see salt in the water. That means the ship exchanged ballast water from a freshwater port with ocean water that kills most freshwater organisms hiding out in the ballasts.


“Once we check all the ballast tanks and they’re all good to go, we tell the captain that he’s allowed to discharge his ballast in the Great Lakes if he so desires.”


And that’s it; if the ship’s ballast contains ocean water and the log shows the water came from deep ocean, it’s good to go. Lieutenant Commander James Bartlett commands the Massena station. He says that’s all the Coast Guard can do.


“We’ve been asked if we are actually checking for the organisms and doing, you know, a species count. Right now, that technology’s not available to us nor, really, do we have that capability in our regulations. It’s essentially, it’s a log check, an administrative, and then also a physical salinity check.”


But a ship can also be allowed into the Great Lakes if its ballast tanks are empty. Ships fill their ballasts tanks to keep the vessel stable in the water. When a ship is fully loaded with cargo, it sits deep enough in the water that it doesn’t need ballast water for stability. It’s declared as “No Ballast on Board,” or NOBOB.


But “No Ballast On Board” does not mean empty; there’s always a little residual water and sediment.


(Sound of footsteps thumping on metal)


Deep inside the S.S. William A Irvin, an out-of-service iron ore ship that’s permanently docked in Duluth, Minnesota, Captain Ray Skelton points out the rusty structure of the ballast tanks.


“You can see by all the webs, scantlings, cross members, frames, just the interior supports for the cargo hold itself, and the complexity of this configuration, that it wouldn’t be possible to completely pump all of the tank.”


And a recent study of NOBOB ships found there’s a lot more than just water and sediment sloshing around in the bottom of the tanks. David Reid headed up the study. He says there are live organisms in both the water and the sediment.


“If you multiply it out, you see that there are millions of organisms even though you have a very small amount of either water or sediment.”


And when ships load or unload they discharge or take on ballast water, that stirs up the water and sediment in the bottom of the ballast tanks along with the organisms they’re carrying from half way around the world, and they end up in the Great Lakes.


The shipping industry says for the past few years, the security regulations since 9/11 have been more important to the industry than dealing with ballast water. Helen Brohl is Executive Director of the U.S. Great Lakes Shipping Association. She says the shipping industry hasn’t forgotten; it is paying close attention to concerns about ballast water.


“From my perspective, in ten years, ballast water is not an issue, because in ten years there’ll be treatment technology on most ships. We’re moving right along. Ballast, in some respects, is kind of beating a dead horse.”


But environmentalists and others say ten years to get most of the ships fitted with ballast water treatment equipment is too long. New non-indigenous species are being introduced to the Lakes every few months.


The invasive species that are already in the Great Lakes are costing the economy and taxpayers about five billion dollars a year. The environmentalists insist Congress needs to implement new ballast regulations for the Coast Guard soon.


They also say the Environmental Protection Agency should start treating ballast water like pollution before more invasive species catch a ride in the ballast tanks of the foreign freighters and further damage the Lakes.


For the GLRC, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Ten Threats: The Earliest Invader

  • A bridge for a river... this portion of the Erie Canal crossed the Genesee River via an aqueduct in Rochester, NY. This photo was taken around 1914. (From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division)

The Ten Threats to the Great Lakes” is looking first at alien invasive species. There are more than 160 non-native species in the Great Lakes basin. If they do environmental or economic harm, they’re called invasive species. There are estimates that invasive species cost the region billions of dollars a year. Different species got here different ways. David Sommerstein tells us how some of the region’s earliest invaders got into the Lakes:

Transcript

We’re bringing you an extensive series on Ten Threats to the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham is guiding us through the reports:


“The Ten Threats to the Great Lakes” is looking first at alien invasive species. There are more than 160 non-native species in the Great Lakes basin. If they do environmental or economic harm, they’re called invasive species. There are estimates that invasive species cost the region billions of dollars a year. Different species got here different ways. David Sommerstein tells us how some of the region’s earliest invaders got into the Lakes:


If the history of invasive species were a movie, it would open like this:


(Sound of banjo)


It’s 1825. Politicians have just ridden the first ship across the newly dug Erie Canal from Buffalo to New York.


(Sound of “The Erie Canal”)


“I’ve got an old mule, and her name is Sal. Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal…”


Chuck O’Neill is an invasive species expert with New York Sea Grant.


“At the canal’s formal opening, Governor DeWitt Clinton dumped a cask of Lake Erie water; he dumped that water into New York Harbor.”


Meanwhile, in Buffalo, a cask of Hudson River water was triumphantly poured into Lake Erie.


“In a movie, that would be the flashback with the impending doom-type music in the background.”


(Sound of ominous music)


It was an engineering and economic milestone, but a danger lurked. For the first time since glaciers carved the landscape twelve thousand years ago, water from the Hudson and water from the Great Lakes mixed.


(Sound of “Dragnet” theme)


Enter the villain: the sea lamprey. It’s a slimy, snake-like parasite in the Atlantic Ocean. It sucks the blood of host fish.


Within a decade after the Erie Canal and its network of feeders opened, the sea lamprey uses the waterways to swim into Lake Ontario. By the 1920’s and 30’s, it squirms into the upper Lakes, bypassing Niagara Falls through the Welland Canal.


What happens next is among the most notorious examples of damage done by an invasive species in the Great Lakes. By the 1950’s, the sea lamprey devastates Lake trout populations in Lake Superior. Mark Gaden is with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.


“They changed a way of life in the Great Lakes basin, the lampreys. They preyed directly on fish, they drove commercial fisheries out of business, the communities in the areas that were built around the fisheries were impacted severely.”


The sea lamprey wasn’t the only invader that used the canals. Canal barges carried stowaway plants and animals in their hulls and ballast. In the mid-1800’s, the European faucet snail clogged water intakes across the region. The European pea clam, purple loosestrife, marsh foxtail, flowering rush – all used the canal system to enter the Great Lakes.


Chuck O’Neill says the spread of invasive species also tells the tale of human transportation.


“If you look at a map, you can pretty much say there was some kind of a right-of-way – railroad, canal, stageline – that was in those areas just by the vegetation patterns.”


Almost one hundred invasive species came to the Great Lakes this way before 1960. O’Neill says every new arrival had a cascading effect.


“Each time you add in to an ecosystem another organism that can out-compete the native organisms that evolved there, you’re gradually making that ecosystem more and more artificial, less and less stable, much more likely to be invaded by the next invader that comes along.”


(Sound of “Dragnet” theme)


The next one in the Great Lakes just might be the Asian Carp. It’s swimming up the Illinois River, headed toward Lake Michigan. Cameron Davis directs the Alliance for the Great Lakes.


“If this thing gets in, it can cause catastrophic damage to the Great Lakes, ‘cause it eats thirty, forty percent of its body weight in plankton every day, and plankton are the base of the food chain in the Great Lakes.”


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has installed an electric barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that might stop the carp. But as long as the canals around the region remain open for shipping and recreation, it’s likely more invaders may hitch a ride or simply swim into the Great Lakes.


For the GLRC, I’m David Sommerstein.

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Ten Threats: The Beloved Invader

  • Because alewives are the main source of food for some sport fish, some people forget that they're an invasive species. (Photo courtesy of NOAA Fishery Service)

As we look at the “Ten Threats to the Great Lakes,” we’re spending some time examining the effects of the alien invasive species that have changed the Lakes. One of the first invasive species to arrive in the Great Lakes was the alewife; it’s native to the Atlantic Ocean. It has become the most beloved of all the invasives. That’s because it’s food for the most popular sport fish in the Great Lakes. But in the beginning, the sport fish was introduced to get rid of the alewives. Peter Payette reports:

Transcript

Today we’re continuing our series on Ten Threats to the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham is our series guide:


As we look at the “Ten Threats to the Great Lakes,” we’re spending some time examining the effects of the alien invasive species that have changed the Lakes. One of the first invasive species to arrive in the Great Lakes was the alewife; it’s native to the Atlantic Ocean. It has become the most beloved of all the invasives. That’s because it’s food for the most popular sport fish in the Great Lakes. But in the beginning, the sport fish was introduced to get rid of the alewives. Peter Payette reports:


When autumn arrives in Northern Michigan, salmon fishermen line the rivers. The fish, native to the Pacific Ocean, swim upstream to spawn and then die. That’s why Tim Gloshen says they’re not interested in his bait.


“But if you irritate ’em enough and keep putting it in front of them, they’ll snap at it sometimes and you got to be ready when they hit it and set your hook.”


Anglers caught eight million pounds of salmon in Lake Michigan last year. Most of the fish are caught out in the lake.


“I got buddies that are catching couple hundred a year out there. They’re out there twice a week at least, all summer long, you know.”


Tim and his buddies and everyone else who fishes for salmon in the Great Lakes are at the top of the food chain. The money they spend on food, lodging, tackle, and boats figures heavily into decisions about how to manage the Lakes.


But it wasn’t always so.


Pacific salmon were stocked here about forty years ago to control the invading alewives. The native lake trout had just about been wiped out by overfishing and the sea lamprey. With no big predators left, the alewife population exploded.


At one point, it was estimated that for every ten pounds of fish in Lake Michigan, eight were alewives. Occasional die-offs would cause large numbers of alewives to wash up on beaches all over the Great Lakes. Historian Michael Chiarappa says all this was happening as America was feeling the urge to get back in touch with nature.


“And that’s when you get this rise in greater interest in sport fishing, recreational fishing, hunting. Teddy Roosevelt sort of epitomized the spirit of the strenuous life; get back out there and engage nature. It’s good for the soul, it’s good for the body, it’s good for the mind.”


So the salmon was brought in to control the alewife population and transform the Great Lakes into a sport fishing paradise. And it worked. But alewives remained the best food source for the ravenous salmon.


So now a healthy alewife population is seen as a good thing by the states that benefit economically from the recreational fishing. Mark Holey, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says this has caused people to forget alewives are an invasive species.


“If alewives were knocking on the door today, there may be a much different discussion about it. It may be more like the Asian carp.”


How the alewife would compare to Asian carp is unknown, because the Asian carp has been found in the Mississippi River, but not yet in the Great Lakes. What is known is that when alewives are abundant, native fish don’t do well. For example, Holey says biologists used to think PCBs caused many young lake trout to die. Now they know early mortality is mostly due to thiamin deficiency.
Thiamine is a vitamin lacking in lake trout that eat too many alewives.


“From the studies that we’ve been involved with, anywhere, right now, anywhere between thirty to fifty percent of the females that we take eggs from show some… their eggs show some signs of thiamine deficiency. Which means survival of those eggs are impaired.”


In some cases, none of the eggs will survive. So a worse case estimate would be half of the wild lake trout in the Great Lakes can’t reproduce because of alewives. This is why advocates for native fish species have been happy to see the alewife populations decline in recent years. They almost disappeared from Lake Huron.


Mark Ebener is a fisheries biologist for the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority. He says the government agencies that stock salmon and lake trout should stock more than ever to keep pressure on the alewife. Ebener thinks with alewife numbers down, there’s an opportunity to reestablish the native herring as the main prey fish in the Lakes, especially in Lake Huron.


“Saginaw Bay used to have a huge population of lake herring that’s essentially gone. They used to have a tremendous commercial fishery for it, and people used to come from miles around to buy herring there, and everybody in the lower end of the state used to have herring come fall and the springtime when the fishers were fishing, but they’re gone.”


This opportunity to bring herring back might not last much longer. The warm weather this past summer will probably help alewives rebound next year.


For the GLRC, I’m Peter Payette.

Related Links

Ten Threats: Hidden Costs of Invasives

  • Foreign ships like this one from Cypress are known as "Salties" around the Great Lakes. These ships are responsible for bringing aquatic invasive species into the Lakes, and we're all paying a price. (Photo by Mark Brush)

In looking at these threats to the Great Lakes, almost everyone we surveyed agreed the worst threat was alien invasive species. Shipping goods in and out of the Great Lakes has helped build the major cities on the Lakes. But shipping from foreign ports has brought in unwanted pests. Zebra mussels are probably the most infamous, but there are more than 160 aquatic species that have invaded the Lakes and changed them, almost always for the worse. So why can’t we keep them out?

Transcript

Today we begin an extensive series called “Ten Threats to the Great Lakes.” The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham is our guide through this series:


In looking at these threats to the Great Lakes, almost everyone we surveyed agreed the worst threat was alien invasive species. Shipping goods in and out of the Great Lakes has helped build the major cities on the Lakes. But shipping from foreign ports has brought in unwanted pests. Zebra mussels are probably the most infamous, but there are more than 160 aquatic species that have invaded the Lakes and changed them, almost always for the worse. So why can’t we keep them out?


Well, let’s say I import widgets.


(Sound of widgets dropping into a cup)


I’ve been getting widgets from somewhere in Asia, but I found out I could get widgets from an eastern European company for a dollar-a-widget cheaper. The factory there can ship them directly to my warehouse in Great Lakes City, USA by ship across the Atlantic and into the Great Lakes.


Pretty good deal. I get good widgets, the shipping costs are cheaper, my profits go up, and it means cheaper widgets at the retail level. Everybody wins, right?


Well, the ship that brought the widgets also brought an alien invasive species that stowed away in the ship’s ballast. A critter that’s native to eastern European waters is now wreaking havoc on the Great Lakes ecosystem.


Aquatic alien invasive species that have invaded the Great Lakes now cost the economy an estimated five billion dollars a year. Five billion dollars of what’s considered biological pollution.


So, who’s paying the price?


Cameron Davis is with the environmental group Alliance for the Great Lakes.


“Unfortunately, in most instances, who pays for those hiddens costs are you and me. We pay for our water agencies to have to clean zebra mussels out of their pipes, we pay our agencies through taxes to have to keep Asian Carp out of the Chicago River, we pay through our taxes in any number of ways to try to fight these invaders.”


So right now, taxpayers and utility ratepayers – even those who never bought a widget and never will – are paying the price. Davis says that’s just not right.


“One of the things we need to do is make sure that those ships are paying full cost for everything that they bring, not just the widgets, but the stowaways like the zebra mussels, things like that that they have on board.”


So, why target the ships?


Dennis Schornack chairs the U.S. Sector of the International Joint Commission. The IJC is a bi-national agency that monitors a water quality agreement between the U.S. and Canada. Schornack says that’s the way it usually works: the polluters pay.


“The cost of the impact of these unwanted creatures is something that’s not baked into the price charged for the widgets. So, somewhere that external cost needs to be captured back into the price. The ship owners themselves are the likely target to pay for this through a permitting fee which, of course, they will pass on to their customers, the people who made the widgets.”


So all of us who buy widgets end up paying a little more, but paying permits and fees could cost shippers more than they can afford. George Kuper is with the Council of Great Lakes Industries. Kuper says he understands the first impulse is to make the shippers pay.


“The problem with that, of course, is the shippers were already close to non-economic as a method of transportation, which puts us right up against an environmental challenge because shipping is by far the most environmentally un-intrusive method of moving large amounts of materials.”


Kuper says using other methods of transportation such as trains or trucks to move that cargo from East Coast ports might burn more fuel and cause more pollution.


But of all the shipping on the Great Lakes, only six percent of the tonnage is carried on ocean-going vessels. The rest is transported on Great Lakes carriers that never leave the lakes and don’t bring in new invasives. So, the question is this: is that six percent of cargo worth the damage that aquatic invasive species cost each year.


Many experts say there is a fairly simple answer to all of this. Technology is available for cargo ships to eliminate invasives from their ballast tanks. Requiring those ships to use that technology would likely add some to the cost of every widget, but supporters of the idea say it would greatly reduce the environmental cost to the Lakes.


For the GLRC, this is Lester Graham.

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Ten Threats: Natives Bite Back

  • A big female Lake Erie water snake and a territorial male goby. Snake researcher Dr. Rich King caught the snake out of the lake with the goby in its mouth... the snake was swimming toward shore to enjoy its meal. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

These ten threats to the Great Lakes are complicated. Researchers are finding new ways that nature reacts to them. For example, alien invasive species often compete for food and crowd out the native species. Once a foreign species takes control in an area, there’s not much anyone can do to get rid of them. But occasionally, a native species will bite back. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams has that story:

Transcript

Invasive species have been a real problem for native species in the Great Lakes, but some native species are turning tails on the invaders. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham is our guide in exploring the series Ten Threats to the Great Lakes:


These ten threats to the Great Lakes are complicated. Researchers are finding new ways that nature reacts to them. For example, alien invasive species often compete for food and crowd out the native species. Once a foreign species takes control in an area, there’s not much anyone can do to get rid of them. But occasionally, a native species will bite back. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams has that story:


(waves)


These islands in Lake Erie seem like floating Gardens of Eden. They’re
popular with tourists. These islands also really appeal to a rare
snake.


“So there’s a dozen or so of them heading out into the water.”


Meet the Lake Erie water snake. It can grow up to four feet long. Snake expert
Rich King and I are watching a bunch of them swimming away, gray heads
peeking up like periscopes.


These snakes like the lake. They like hanging out in huge piles on docks
and boats, and Rich King’s discovered the snakes love to eat round gobies.


Gobies are invasive fish that are thought to have hitched a ride in the
ballast water of ocean-going ships from foreign ports. The gobies eat the
eggs of native fish such as smallmouth bass, and compete with other fish for
food and nest sites. As gobies have taken over the lake bottom, the native
fish the snakes used to eat are getting harder to find.


“What we’re seeing is that the gobies are apparently a very abundant food
source for the water snakes. Compared to the 1980’s and early 90’s when the
snakes were feeding exclusively on native fish or mudpuppies – the snakes
are now consuming over ninety percent of their prey items are round gobies.”


(Sound of walking over rocks and zebra mussels)


Today, Rich King and his students from Northern Illinois University are
prowling the beaches for snakes. They carry their catches in faded
pillowcases tied to their belt loops. This is the annual snake survey,
Nerodio. That’s Nerodia, the snake’s scientific name, and rodeo, as in
cowboy roundup.


The snake biologists don’t just look under rocks. They dive into the lake
for snakes. They sneak up on piles of snakes and then grab the whole
writhing mass.


The snakes bite. The researchers’ arms are covered in snakebites. The bites aren’t life threatening, but they’re really, really bloody. And then it comes to the job at hand. The biologists are going to force the snakes’ stomach contents out. They call it “barfing the snakes.”


“Some snakes are easier to puke versus others. The water snakes, for
example, they sometimes voluntarily just, bleagh, just puke it out when you
pick them up.”


PhD student Kristin Stanford promises me it’ll be a good show, and we’re in
luck: just down the road, Rich King makes his first prize catch of the day.


“I got a snake with a goby in it. See the bulge: that’s the head end of
the goby. I’m virtually sure it’s a goby. (laughs) So you just very gently work it
forward, and drop it into our ziplock bag. That’s a round
goby.”


King says the snakes are growing faster and getting fatter on their goby
diet. Bigger snakes are less vulnerable to predators, and bigger females
can have more babies.


The researchers are pretty happy about that. That’s because the water snakes
are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This is the
only place in the world these snakes are found. For years, people were
shooting snakes and bashing them with rocks. Their numbers were getting
dangerously low.


The snake biologists say they understand that a lot of people hate and fear
snakes, but they say now that the snakes are eating gobies, they’re
starting to get a little more popular, especially with fishermen.


(Sound of fisherman casting a spinning rod)


Mark Green fishes for smallmouth bass. Green says it seems like when he
sees more snakes, he has better luck.


“If they’re eating the gobies, that is a good thing. I mean, I’m sure they have their
place… just not at my place.” (laughs)


Green didn’t realize until today that the snakes like to hang out under the
metal rim of the pier, right by his feet. He cringes, but his curiosity
gets the better of him, and he peeks inside one of the pillowcases bulging
with snakes.


GREEN: “When they get ahold of you, do they let go pretty quick, or do they…”


STANFORD: “Typically, but every now and then you get what
I call a “chewer,” and they’ll just sit there and errr-errr-errrng.”


The people and snakes are starting to arrive at an uneasy truce, and the
snakes seem to be well on their way to recovery from all the feasting on
gobies.


The researchers are hoping to learn just how big a bite the snakes can take
out of the goby population, and if, in the long run, it’s good or bad for
water snakes to depend on a foreign fish.


For the GLRC, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Ten Threats: Predicting New Invaders

  • Some say it's only a matter of time before the Asian Carp enters the Great Lakes. (Photo courtesy of the USFWS)

More than 160 kinds of foreign creatures are in the Great Lakes right now, and every few months, a new one finds its way into the Lakes. Those invasive species are considered the number one problem by the experts we surveyed. The outsiders crowd out native species and disrupt the natural food chain, and it’s likely more will be coming. Zach Peterson reports scientists are putting a lot of time and effort into figuring out which new foreign creatures might next invade the Great Lakes:

Transcript

There are new problems for the Great Lakes on the horizon. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham is our guide in a series that explains that new invasive species are one of the Ten
Threats to the Great Lakes:


More than 160 kinds of foreign creatures are in the Great Lakes right now, and every few months, a new one finds its way into the Lakes. Those invasive species are considered the number one problem by the experts we surveyed. The outsiders crowd out native species and disrupt the natural food chain, and it’s likely more will be coming. Zach Peterson reports scientists are putting a lot of time and effort into figuring out which new foreign creatures might next invade the Great Lakes:


(Sound of boat motor)


Jim Barta is a charter boat captain just above Lake Erie on the Detroit River. He says over the last decade, zebra mussels and other foreign species have altered the habitat of the walleye he fishes for.


Water that once had a brownish hue is now clear. That’s because Zebra mussels have eaten the algae and plankton that used to cloud the water, and that means Barta’s boat is no longer invisible to the fish he aims to hook.


“You could catch the fish a little closer to the boat because they weren’t as spooked by the boat. They weren’t as afraid of what was taking place.”


So Barta had to rethink his tactics. He now casts his lines out further, and he’s changed lures to continue catching walleye.


But there are other problems the zebra mussel is causing. Eating all the plankton means it’s stealing food at the bottom of the food chain. And, that affects how many fish survive and how much the surviving fish are able to grow.


Anthony Ricciardi is trying to help Barta, and other people who rely on a stable Great Lakes ecosystem. He’s an “invasion biologist” at McGill University in Montreal.


Ricciardi looks for evidence that can predict the next non-native species that might make it’s way into the Great Lakes. He says species that have spread throughout waterways in Europe and Asia are prime candidates to become Great Lakes invaders.


“If the organism has shown itself to be invasive elsewhere, it has the ability to adapt to new habitats, to rapidly increase in small numbers, to dominate ecosystems, or to change them in certain ways that change the rules of exsistence for everything else, and thus can cause a disruption.”


Ricciardi says most aquatic invasive species are transported to North America in the ballast tanks of ocean freighters. Freighters use ballast water to help balance their loads. Some of the foreign species hitchhike in the ballast water or in the sediment in the bottom of the ballasts.


Ships coming from overseas release those foreign species unintentionally when they pump out ballast water in Great Lakes ports. Ricciardi says one of the potential invaders that might pose the next big threat to the Great Lakes is the “killer shrimp.” Like the Zebra Mussel, it’s a native of the Black Sea.


“And it’s earned the name killer shrimp because it attacks invertebrates, all kinds of invertebrates, including some that are bigger than it is. And it takes bites out of them and kills them, but doesn’t necessarily eat them. So, it’s not immediately satiated. It actually feeds in a buffet style: it’ll sample invertebrates, and so it can leave a lot of carcasses around it.”


Ballasts on cargo ships aren’t the only way foreign species can get into the Lakes. Right now, scientists are watching as a giant Asian Carp makes its way toward Lake Michigan. It’s a voracious eater and it grows to a hundred pounds or more.


This non-native fish was introduced into the Mississippi River, when flooding allowed the carp to escape from fish farms in the South. A manmade canal near Chicago connects the Mississippi River system to the Great Lakes.


If it gets past an electric barrier in the canal, it could invade. Many scientists believe it’s just a matter of time. Another invasive, the sea lamprey, also got into the Great Lakes through a manmade canal.


But, researchers don’t usually know when or where an invader will show up. David Reid is a researcher for the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor. He says they can’t predict the effect an invader will have when it arrives in its new ecosystem.


“That’s the problem. We don’t know when the next zebra mussel’s going to come in. We don’t know when the next sea lamprey type of organism is going to come in. Generally, if you look at the invasion history of the Great Lakes, you’re seeing about one new organism being reported probably about once every eight months.”


Knowing what the next invader might be could help biologists, fisheries experts, and fishermen know what to do to limit its spread. Invasional biologists hope that their work will help develop the most effective measures to limit harm to the Great Lakes.


For the GLRC, I’m Zach Peterson.

Related Links

Invasive Species or Delectable Green?

  • Garlic mustard looks like any average weed, but because it's an exotic species in the Midwest, it doesn't have any natural predators. That means it can push out native plant species and disrupt ecosystems in Great Lakes states. (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)

Of all the non-native plants and animals that have invaded the Great Lakes region, garlic mustard is one of the most prolific. The leafy green plant is an invasive species that can be found in people’s backyards, in wetlands, even growing through cracks in concrete. Invasive species can hurt natural areas by displacing native plants. So to get rid of garlic mustard, people are dumping it in landfills or killing it with herbicide. But a nature group in Michigan has found a better way to deal with it – by eating it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner attended a benefit dinner where garlic mustard was featured in every single recipe. Toner produced this audio postcard:

Transcript

Of all the non-native plants and animals that have invaded the
Great Lakes region, garlic mustard is one of the most prolific. The
leafy green plant is an invasive species that can be found in people’s
backyards, in wetlands, even growing through cracks in concrete.
Invasive species can hurt natural areas by displacing native plants.
So to get rid of garlic mustard, people are dumping it in landfills or
killing it with herbicide. But a nature group in Michigan has found
a better way to deal with it – by eating it. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Erin Toner attended a benefit dinner where garlic mustard
was featured in every single recipe. Toner produced this audio postcard:


“Hi, I’m Jeremy Emmi. I’m the executive director of the Michigan Nature Association. There are a lot of invasive species out there that people don’t know about. Most people have invasive species in their backyard or their woodlot or their farm and they really don’t know they’re there. Garlic mustard is actually pretty simple to deal with, although very labor intensive.


“And the way we deal with it is pulling it, and that’s really the best way. You can use herbicide, but because it grows in such pristine habitats a lot of the time you don’t want to use herbicide because you don’t want to kill the native plants that are around it. So you’re in a catch 22. So really the best way is just to pull it.”


“Hi, I’m Natalie Kent. I’m the GIS technician and development associate for the Michigan Nature Association. I was helping out at one of MNA’s workdays and we were removing garlic mustard and I was working with my coworker Sherri. And we were coming back home and we were talking and she said she had had garlic mustard in salad the weekend before. And I said “Oh, you can eat it.” And she said “Oh yeah, it’s edible, you can have it fresh in salads, you can cook it like spinach.” And then the first thought that popped into my head was, if we can eat it, why are we throwing it away?


“…It looks different, depending on when you see it. In early spring, it’s in the form of a basil rosette and it sort of looks similar to a violet leaf, similar in the shape. But to me, I always tell people it looks like Pac Man.”


“My name is Ruth and I am eating something called Jade Soup, which I think is essentially a broth with lots of boiled garlic mustard leaves in it and actually it’s very good. It kind of tastes like a spinach soup, kind of, but it tastes good and mild and not at all overwhelming which you might think it would be. And also the garlic pesto bread is absolutely fabulous.”


“I’m Cynthia and I was born in Detroit, Michigan. Oh, I think it’s great. It has a slight zing and zip to it. It’s refreshing. It’s the kind of thing that would cleanse the palette after a heavy meal. It’s really an enjoyable plant.”


I’m Clifford Welch, and I’m a retired professor at Michigan State University and my retirement’s devoted to ecological restoration. I spend now almost 70 percent of my time on invasive species. The invasive vegetation is a huge, huge problem. What I have is a bunch of dishes that have garlic mustard in it. This is what I really need to taste, here’s the garlic mustard right here, and I’ve never eaten it before and I’m anxious to see what this tastes like.


(sound of chewing)


“It has a mustardy taste to it. It needs something on it, though, badly.”


“I’m Mary, and I was about to try – this is a cheese ball with garlic mustard. It’s actually good, it adds a, I don’t want to say peppery flavor, but I guess a garlic flavor to the cheese. It is good. So if somebody’s willing to take the time to harvest it, you can add it to things and I guess it’s supposed to be really healthy based on the literature. It has a lot of Vitamin A and Vitamin C in it. We’re all trying to eat healthier these days.”


HOST TAG: The voices of people trying foods made with mustard garlic: an invasive species that naturalists are removing from the wild and eating, rather than throwing it away. Our audio postcard was produced by the GLRC’s Erin Toner.

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Invasive Fish Rears Ugly Head in Great Lakes

  • With its ability to breathe out of water and wriggle its way over land during dry spells, the media has dubbed the northern snakehead "Frankenfish." Its appearance in Lake Michigan is scary to scientists. (Photo courtesy of USGS)

A few weeks ago, a Chicago fisherman caused a stir when he found a northern snakehead fish. The discovery set off a frantic search to find out if yet another invasive species is threatening the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jenny Lawton has this report:

Transcript

A few weeks ago, a Chicago fisherman caused a stir when he found a northern snakehead fish. The find set off a frantic search to find out if yet another invasive species is threatening the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jenny Lawton has this report:


Just before Halloween, the so-called Frankenfish reared its ugly head… filled with sharp teeth… in Chicago’s Burnham Harbor on Lake Michigan. And it’s still a mystery as to just how it got there.


Although the snakehead is arare item in some Asian cuisines, there’s a more common suspicion amongst local experts and hobbyists. That snakehead was probably a pet that outgrew its tank, and instead of the traditional farewell down the toilet, it was set free in Lake Michigan. Free to eat through the Lake’s food web.


Local pet store manager Edwin Cerna says that’s why he stopped selling the fish years before they were banned by U.S. Fish and Wildlife. He remembers one day, when he was adjusting a tank, he accidentally got in between a snakehead’s lunch and its mouth.


“He bit me in the hand… made me bleed. It hurts. It’s got a nice strong jaw and that’s why it’s so dangerous because it can kill big fish, literally cut them in half. It’s almost like a big old killer whale, like a miniature version of it.”


But why on earth would anybody buy a vicious fish that can grow up to three feet long in the first place? Jim Robinett is with the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. He says he’s a fish geek.


“I gotta say, as a little fish, when you first buy them, they’re really attractive; they’re neat little animals, but they eat like crazy. They’re voracious.”


Robinett knows not to be fooled by the little guys because what happens next is the perfect plot for a B-horror movie. He says the snakehead fish grows quickly, eventually eating everything in its tank. If it doesn’t die from overgrowing that tank, its owner might be tempted to dump it into a nearby body of water where it will keep eating its way up the food chain. Robinett says that’s the fear in Lake Michigan.


“They could potentially start picking off small salmon and lake trout, which is native to these waters here, they’re not real discriminating, they’ve been known to take things as large as frogs, some small birds, even small mammals that happen to get in the way there close to shore. They’ll eat anything they get their mouth on.”


Most hobby fish don’t last long in Chicago’s cold water. But the northern snakehead is different. The snakehead is native to northern Asia, and the Lake Michigan Federation’s Cameron Davis says that makes the fish feel right at home around here.


“It’s a lot like us Midwesterners, it just kind of hunkers down and… that’s part of the problem with the snakehead is that it can live under very extreme conditions. Which means it’ll out compete those other fish, and that’s a tremendous problem.”


Snakeheads have another edge on other species. The fish guard their eggs, giving their young a better chance of reaching maturity. But perhaps the most peculiar thing about snakeheads is that they can breathe. In addition to its gills, they have an organ that works like a lung and allows it to breathe air. It’s able to live up to three days as it uses its fins to wriggle across land in search of another body of water.


But looking down into the murky waters at Burnham Harbor, Davis says we shouldn’t run screaming yet. It’s not exactly a horror film scenario.


“I don’t think that the snakehead is going to come and grab our children out of schools and eat them or anything like that. But it is a problem for those of us who like to fish for yellow perch and whitefish and some of the things that make the Great Lakes so fantatstic, could really be threatened by this fish getting into Lake Michigan.”


Other invasive species cause an estimated 137-billion dollars of losses and damages in U.S. waterways each year. Cameron Davis says simply banning the local sale of fish like snakeheads hasn’t been enough to keep the Great Lakes safe.


“We’ve got to stop imports of these kinds of fish into the United States. We can’t protect the Great Lakes unless we’re checking these things at the door when they come into the country. It’s that simple.”


Davis is pushing for the passage of the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act. The bill would allocate a total of 174-million dollars to develop new technology for identifying and eliminating the invaders if and when they arrive.


So far, local authorities ahven’t found another snakehead near the banks of Lake Michigan, but Cameron Davis says the initial find just proves how hard it is to regulate what comes into the country’s largest body of fresh water.


Standing on the dock at Burnham Harbor, Davis looks out over the dark waters and shakes his head.


“It’s just an indicator that we’re in a race against time right now. Let’s hope that if there are more than one out there, that they haven’t hooked up.”


If they have, he says, it could truly be the stuff horror movies are made of… at least, for the other fish in the Great Lakes.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jenny Lawton in Chicago.

Related Links

Gardeners Have Hand in Invasive Species Control

  • Centaurea diffusa a.k.a. Spotted knapweed. Introduced in the late 1800's, knapweed can reduce diversity in the region's prairies. (Photo courtesy of the USDA)

Gardeners have been ordering new plants and digging in the dirt this spring, but if they’re not careful, they could be introducing plants that can cause havoc with forests, lakes, and other natural areas. Gardeners can’t count on their suppliers to warn them about plants that can damage the local ecosystems. In another report in the series, “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Gardeners have been ordering new plants and digging in the dirt this spring, but, if
they’re not careful, they could be introducing plants that can cause havoc with forests,
lakes, and other natural areas. Gardeners can’t count on their suppliers to warn them
about plants that can damage the local ecosystems. In another report in the series “Your
Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Gardening, especially flower gardening, seems to get more popular all the time. Maybe
it’s because the baby-boomers have all reached that age where they’re beginning to
appreciate stopping for a moment to smell the roses.


That’s fine. In fact if gardeners plant the right kinds of plants… it can be great for
wildlife. There are all kinds of guides for backyard natural areas.


But… in some cases… gardeners can unleash plant pests on the environment.


Katherine Kennedy is with the Center for Plant Conservation. She says almost all of the
problem plants that damage the native ecosystems were planted with good intentions…


“I don’t believe that any invasive species has ever been introduced into the United States
on purpose by someone who willingly said, ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be a problem, but I
don’t care.’ They’ve almost all been inadvertent problems that were introduced by
someone who thought they were doing something good or who thought they were
bringing in something beautiful.”


English ivy, a decorative ground cover, is now killing forests in the Pacific Northwest…
kudzu is doing the same in the southeast… and in the Great Lakes region and the
Midwest… pretty flowering plants such as purple loosestrife and water plants such as
Eurasian watermilfoil are causing damage to wetlands, crowding out native plants and
disturbing the habitat that many wildlife species need to survive.


Bob Wilson works in the Michigan Senate Majority policy office. Like many other
states, Michigan is looking at legislation to ban certain problem plants. Wilson agrees
that these plant pests are generally not intentional… but they do show that people seem to
unaware of the problems that they’re causing…


“The two most common vectors for bringing in these kinds of plants are typically
landscapers, who bring it in as a way of decorating yards and lawns, and then aquarium
dumpers, people who inadvertently dump their aquarium, thinking that there’s no
consequence to that. Before you know it, something that was contained is now spread.”


But stopping the import of pest plants is a lot harder than just passing laws that ban them.
With mail order and Internet orders from large nurseries so common, the plants can get
shipped to a local nursery, landscaper or local gardener without the government ever
knowing about it.


Recently, botanists, garden clubs, and plant nursery industry groups put together some
codes of conducts. Called the St. Louis Protocol or the St. Louis Declaration… the
document set out voluntary guidelines for the industry and gardeners to follow to avoid
sending plants to areas where they can cause damage.


Sarah Reichard is a botanist with the University of Washington. She helped put the St.
Louis Protocol together. She says if a nursery signs on to the protocol, it will help stop
invasive plant species from being shipped to the wrong places….


“And it’s up to each of the nursery owners, particularly those who sell mail order or
Internet, to go and find out which species are banned in each state.” LG: And is that
happening?
“Uh, I think most nursery people are pretty responsible and are trying to
do the best that they can. I’m sure that they’re very frustrated and understandably so
because the tools aren’t really out there for them and it is very difficult to find the
information. So, it’s a frustrating situation for them.”


But in preparing this report, we found that some of the biggest mail-order nurseries had
never heard of the St. Louis protocol. And many of the smaller nurseries don’t have the
staff or resources to check out the potential damage of newly imported plants… or even
to check out each state to make sure that banned plants aren’t being sent inadvertently.


Sarah Reichard says that means gardeners… you… need to do some homework before
ordering that pretty flowering vine. Is it banned in your state? Is it a nuisance that could
cause damage? Reichard says if enough gardeners care, they can make a difference…


“You know, gardeners have tremendous power. We, you know, the people that are
buying the plants at the nurseries – that’s what it’s all about. I mean, the nurseries are
there to provide a service to provide plants to those people and if those people have
certain tastes and demands such as not wanting to buy and plant invasive species, the
nurseries are going to respond to it. So, we’re all part of one team.”


Reichard and others concerned about the problem say although agencies are working on
it… the federal government has not yet done enough to effectively stop invasives from
being imported and shipped to the wrong areas. They say it’s up to the nurseries, the
botanists, and the gardeners to stop them. If not, we’ll all pay in tax money as
government agencies react to invasives with expensive eradication programs to try to get
rid of the plants invading parks, preserves, and other natural areas.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Bugs Released to Munch on Invasive Plant

  • Purple loosestrife's looks are deceiving. It's a beautiful plant, but researchers say it has caused enormous damage in many parts of the country. An imported beetle has now shown significant signs of controlling the plant.

Purple loosestrife is a beautiful plant. It’s tall… and each cone-shaped stem produces hundreds of flowers. When the plants bloom in mid-summer they can create a sea of purple in wetlands throughout the region, but the ability of the plant to spread and reproduce in great numbers is what concerns scientists and land managers. Over the years they have been working to control it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush says one way they’re trying to control it is by releasing a bug to eat the plant:

Transcript

Purple Loosestrife is a beautiful plant. It’s tall… and each cone-shaped
stem produces hundreds of flowers. When the plants bloom
in mid-summer they can create a sea of purple in wetlands
throughout the region… but the ability of the plant to spread and
reproduce in great numbers is what concerns scientists and land
managers. Over the years, they have been working to control it.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush says one way
they’re trying to control it is by releasing a bug to eat the plant:


Roger Sutherland has lived next to this wetland for more than 35
years.

He helped build a boardwalk over the soggy marsh so that he can
get a close-up view of some of his favorite plants:


“You see that plant with the big green flower? Yep. That… and
there’s more along here… that’s a pitcher plant. These are insect
eating plants and there’s another one called sundew here… here’s
some right in here…”

(sound under)


But like many wetlands throughout the country, this wetland has
been invaded by a plant originally found in Europe and Asia.


Purple Loosestrife was introduced as an ornamental plant.
It was a
beautiful addition to gardens, but once it took
hold in the environment,
it out-competed native plants.

Frogs, birds, and insects have relied on these native plants for
thousands of years. Purple Loosestrife is crowding out their habitat.


“We’re going to get a lot more shade with this loosestrife.. and so
these plants that are on these hummocks here…
these little insect
eating plants and so on… just can’t tolerate that shade, so we’ll
probably lose ’em unless I can keep it open here… and I am trying
to keep some of it open.”


The plant spreads quickly… that’s because one plant can produce
more than two million seeds that spread with the wind, like dust.

So when it moves into an area, it often takes over creating a thicket
of purple with a dense root system.

Land managers have seen populations of ducks, and turtles
disappear when loosestrife takes over…

And research has shown that the plant can reduce some frog and
salamander populations by as much as half.


So land managers wondered what to do to stop the spread of this
weed.

They initially tried to control the plant by digging it up… or by
applying herbicide to each plant.

Trying to kill the plants one by one is hard work… especially
considering how abundant purple loosestrife is.

But researchers have hope because of a bug.


(Sound of volunteers planting loosestrife)

Volunteers have gathered here in Ann Arbor, Michigan to plant
purple loosestrife.

They’re putting dormant loosestrife roots into potting containers and
adding fertilizer.


(more sound)


When the plants leaf out they’ll be covered with a fine mesh net and
become home to a leaf-eating beetle known as galerucella.

And galerucella loves to munch on purple loosestrife.

The volunteers are creating a nursery to raise more beetles.

Once they’ve got a bunch of beetles growing on the plant… they’ll
take it to a nearby wetland… and the bugs will be released into the
wild…


(sound up)


Linda Coughenour is a member of the Audubon Society.

Her group is working with state and local agencies to raise and
release these beetles.

She says tackling purple loosestrife invasions is a big task – and
governments need help from volunteers to deal with the problem:


“This is a serious problem throughout the entire Great Lakes
wetlands… it has migrated from the East Coast to the Midwest…
so, uh.. the problem’s just too big – so they thought up doing this
volunteer project and they’ve enlisted people all over the state… and
we’re just one of those.”


Volunteers have have been releasing their beetles into this wetland
for few years now and they’re beginning to see progress:


“It’s going really well… for a while we got off to a slow start, but for two
years now we’ve found evidence that the beetles are reproducing on their
own. We see little egg masses, we see larva that are starting to eat
the plants, we see adult beetles on the plants that have wintered
over. And that’s the thing, to get them to do it on their own.”


But releasing a foreign species into the wild is always a concern.

There are a number of examples of bugs released into the wild to
eliminate a pest, but ended up causing a problem themselves.

But before importing a bug that will prey on plants – the federal
government requires testing to make sure it won’t eat other plants.


The tests have been done.


And researchers feel that this is an extremely finicky bug…


Berndt Blossey is a specialist on invasive plants and ways to control
them.

He says the beetles were tested on native plants before they were
allowed to import the bugs:


“And it was shown there that they will not be able to feed and
develop on the plants. They will occasionally nibble on them, but
they will not be able to develop on them and they usually move off
after they have taken a bite, and they move off to other plants.”


The leaf beetle is not the only bug researchers are importing.

They’re also importing two other beetles known as “weevils.”

One that feeds on loosestrife flowers, and one that feeds on its root
system.

Blossey says more than one bug is needed to keep the plant from
growing back:


“Loosestrife will rebound from resources in the root stock. If you
have the root feeder in the system as well, these fluctuations will be
dampened, so loosestrife will not be allowed to comeback to higher
levels.”


(sound of wetland up)


People who admire the diversity of plants and animals in wetlands
like the idea of keeping purple loosestrife in check.


Roger Sutherland welcomes the bugs.

He believes they’ll help him keep this wetland open for the plants,
birds, and insects he’s come to know over the years:


“We know that the purple loosestrife will probably always be here.
But if we can bring it down to a manageable level, where you’re going
to have a pocket here and a pocket there… and you can kind of
maintain the integrity of this wetland system… then you can’t ask for
anything more than that.”


And researchers say that’s the goal.

To help these wetlands reach a balance… so that plants and animals
that have evolved to rely on these wetlands for thousands of years…
can continue to do so.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.

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