New Research Center for Ballast Treatment

Foreign, invasive species often get into US waters by
hitching a ride in the ballast water of ocean going ships. Now,
a new research center will work to stop the spread of these invasive species. The research center hopes to develop new treatment systems aimed at catching the critters before they get out. The GLRC’s Stephanie Hemphill has more:

Transcript

Foreign, invasive species often get into U.S. waters by hitching a ride in the ballast water
of ocean-going ships. Now, a new research center will work to stop the spread of these
invasive species. The research center hopes to develop new treatment systems aimed at
catching the critters before they get out. The GLRC’s Stephanie Hemphill has more:


The new research center will be built on the edge of the Duluth-Superior port in
Wisconsin. It’ll include storage tanks to represent ballast tanks on freighters. Researchers can introduce exotic species into the tanks, and test various treatments
designed to kill the pests.


Duluth port director Adolph Ojard says currently, ships are exchanging ballast water in
the ocean before entering U.S. ports:


“We have found that it is effective, but we want to be more effective, and the only way
we can do that is to develop full treatment systems on board the ship.”


Systems to be tested include filters, centrifuges, ultra-violet light, and chemicals. Ojard says it’s likely a combination of treatments will be most effective. He says
researchers will be looking for systems that can work in both older and newer ships.


For the GLRC, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.

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Combating Inland Invasives

  • Eurasian Watermilfoil is one of the non-native species that has invaded inland lakes. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

Invasive plants, fish and other creatures are threatening many inland lakes. Environmentalists and property owners are trying to stop the spread…before the invaders dramatically alter the smaller bodies of water. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann-Elise Henzl reports:

Transcript

Invasive plants, fish and other creatures are threatening many inland
lakes. Evironmentalists and property owners are trying to stop the
spread…before the invaders dramatically alter the smaller bodies of
water. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann-Elise Henzl reports:


It’s strange to think that plants and animals from Europe, Asia and Africa
are living in small lakes in the Midwest. Boaters have taken invaders
there…after picking them up in the Great Lakes.


The big lakes are home to more than 160 aquatic invasive species,
including Eurasian Watermilfoil. The stringy plant grows in thick
clusters that get up to 12 feet tall.


“I have seen lakes where if you fell out of the boat in these massive
weeds and you weren’t wearing a life jacket, I don’t care how good a
swimmer you are, you would sink. You can not struggle your way
through these thick entanglements of weeds.”


Ted Ritter leads an effort to reduce aquatic invasive species…in
Wisconsin’s Vilas County.


(Sound of pontoon motor)


On one afternoon he takes his pontoon boat on a lake that had an
infestation of Eurasian Watermilfoil.


“It is a very aggressive plant and it has no natural predators to control its
growth, it grows up to two inches a day.”


When Eurasian Watermilfoil finds conditions it likes, it takes over
quickly. A piece as small as two inches can break off, and float away to
create a new plant.


Eurasian Watermilfoil is widespread in northern Michigan… northern
Wisconsin and other places. It’s one of dozens of aquatic invasive
species on the move in the region.


One of the worst invaders is zebra mussels. They can ravage a lake’s
ecosystem.


(Sound of motor boat)


So far, they’ve made it to just one lake in northern Wisconsin. Mike
Preul with the Lake Superior Chippewa scuba dives there, to count the
mussels. Three years ago, he found 7 adults per square meter. This year,
he counted more than 14-hundred:


“They’re still increasing. What they’ve seen in other systems is that just
like with any other exotic species they’ll come in, the population will
explode, they’ll kind of eat themselves out of house and home, and then
they’ll come down to a level and reach a steady state.”


No method has been discovered to get rid of zebra mussels, but there are
ways to control some invaders.


Herbicides can be used to kill Eurasian Watermilfoil, and some property
owners chip in to buy aquatic insects to kill the plants.


Les Schramm did that on his local lake:


“As the larvae hatches it burrows into the stem of the Eurasian
Watermilfoil and sort of eats out the center vascular part, and it falls over
and dies.”


People fighting aquatic invasive species say it’s like fighting weeds in a
garden — the work never stops and it can be expensive.


Ted Ritter of Vilas County says it costs thousands of dollars to treat a
lake once. So, often people do nothing.


Ritter says that can hurt the environment. He says it can also threaten the
economy, in areas like northern Wisconsin that rely on tourism.


Ritter says the invaders can reduce the appeal of a lake. He mentions a
plant called “curly leaf pondweed.” When it dies in the middle of
summer, it creates algae blooms that look like slimy green pillows:


“When people arrive at resorts and they look out and they see that very
unappealing lake they say ‘I’m not staying here,’ and they go somewhere
else. When realtors bring prospective buyers out to look at a property,
people get out of their car and they go right to the lake and they say ‘oh
my, I’m not even interested in looking at the house. This lake is
horrible.'”


Because it’s so difficult to control invasive species, Ritter and others
fighting the invaders focus on prevention.


Local volunteers and workers from the Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources spend hours at boat landings. They urge people to clean their
boats, trailers, and fishing gear thoroughly when going from lake to lake,
that can keep unwanted plants and creatures from traveling along.


For the GLRC, I’m Ann-Elise Henzl.

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

GARDENERS HAVE HAND IN INVASIVE SPECIES CONTROL (Short Version)

  • 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 are being asked to be careful about what they plant. Invasive species that cause damage to natural areas often start as a pretty plant in someone’s yard. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

http://environmentreport.org/wp-content/uploads/2004/05/graham2_053104.mp3

Transcript

Gardeners are being asked to be careful about what they plant. Invasive species that
cause damage to natural areas often start as a pretty plant in someone’s yard. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Botanists, plant nurseries and gardeners are all being asked to do a little more homework
before importing, selling, or planting new kinds of plants. Katherine Kennedy is with the
Center for Plant Conservation. She says some of the plants you mail order from the
nursery can end up being invasive kinds of plants that damage the local ecosystem…


“We are actually at a point where these invasions crowd out the native community, not
just a species or two, but the entire community. And the wildlife value falls and the
native plants are displaced. And, so, the destructive potential for a species that becomes
truly invasive is more immense than I think many people realize.”


Kennedy says you can’t count on the nursery to warn you when you order plants. She
says gardeners have to make sure the plants they’re ordering won’t hurt the surrounding
landscape.


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

Related Links

Un Report Gives Region a Grade

The United Nation’s Environment Program says the Great Lakes are cleaner. But a new report says the U.S. and Canada need to do more to prevent problems due to urban growth, agricultural runoff and invasions of exotic species. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

The United Nation’s Environment Program says the Great Lakes are cleaner.
But a new report says the U.S. and Canada need to do more to prevent
problems due to urban growth, agricultural runoff and invasions of exotic
species. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


The U.N. report looks at what’s happened to the environment in the U.S. and
Canada for the last 30 years. It finds that there’s been significant progress
in protecting the ozone layer, reducing smokestack and auto emissions, and
slowing the loss of wetlands and other wildlife habitat.


The report in particular notes the progress made in cleaning up the Great Lakes. It
states that since 1972, the use, generation and release of several toxic
chemicals into the Great Lakes has been reduced by 71 percent. But, it also
finds that the two countries have not done a good job of stopping exotic
species such as the zebra mussel from damaging the environment of the lakes,
and it ticks off a list of toxic pollution problems from urban areas and
farms. The report concludes that North America’s global impact is disproportionately large compared to other countries in the world.


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

Gypsy Moth Continues Its Destruction

The Gypsy Moth caterpillar cut a wide-swath of destruction through some midwestern states this year. The caterpillar has been called one of the most destructive hardwood forest insect pests in the U.S. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:

Transcript

The gypsy moth caterpillar cut a wide-swath of destruction through some Great Lakes states this year. The caterpillar has been called one of the most destructive hardwood forest insect pests in the United States. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports.


Agriculture officials in Great Lakes states have tried a variety of chemical methods to stop the spread of the gypsy moth. Still, it’s estimated the gypsy moth caterpillar destroyed a record forty-two thousand acres of trees in Ohio alone this year. The Ohio Department of Agriculture says that number has doubled from last year. Agriculture officials in New York State say the gypsy moth caterpillar feasted on fifty thousand trees this year. That’s compared to twenty-seven thousand last year. But, the state of Michigan got a break. Michigan Department of Natural Resources entomologist, Frank Sapio says the insects died from a virus before they could destroy trees, and he says the DNR released a natural fungus that worked with the virus to kill the caterpillars. Last year, though, the caterpillars were blamed for eating ninety-seven thousand acres of tree leaves in Michigan.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Natalie Walston.

New Ballast Treatment on Display

The state of Michigan is trying a new approach to stop the spread of foreign aquatic species in the Great Lakes – using a new system to clean ships’ ballast water. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Quinn Klinefelter has more:

Transcript

The state of Michigan is trying a new approach to stop the spread of foreign aquatic species in the Great Lakes – using a new system to clean ship’s ballast water. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Quinn Klinefelter has more.


A generator deep in the bowels of the Canadian freighter “Federal Yukon” spits copper ion particles at a cargo hold filled with ballast water. The particles poison any creatures living in the water…a second process cleanses the ballast before it’s drained into the Detroit River. It’s a test designed to find – and hopefully eliminate – any species carried in the water that is NOT native to the Great Lakes. Michigan Lt. Governor Dick Posthumous warned the threat from foreign species like zebra mussels is very real.


“Like an uninvited house guest…they come in uninvited…they eat all your food…and then they leave the house all messed-up.”


Posthumous says the Great Lakes Governor’s Association will meet with Canadian leaders this fall in Chicago to try and find ways to prevent the spread of foreign aquatic species. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Quinn Klinefelter.

Tackling an Invasive Beetle

Foresters think they might be on the verge of eradicating a pest that destroys trees. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Foresters think they might be on the verge of eradicating a pest that destroys trees. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.


The Asian long horned beetle attacks maples and elms. The bug first appeared in 1996, after wood crates infested with the beetle were shipped to New York from China. A second infestation appeared in the Chicago area in 1998. Stan Smith is a manager of the tree nursery program for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. He says the Asian long horned beetle might be under control around Chicago.


“Our population, we feel, is small enough that it might be getting to the point where it might not be able to reproduce very well. Hopefully within four to five years we’ll have everything pretty well cleaned up. At least that’s what we think can happen.”


The beetle is more widespread in New York, but fortunately the insect can’t fly very far. That means it can’t spread quickly, giving foresters a better chance at eliminating the pest.

Native Lake Species Fighting Back

  • Alewives washed up on Lake Michigan shores after the invaders' populations exploded, then crashed. Researchers have a difficult time predicting how invasive species will affect the balance of nature in the Great Lakes.

Ever since the Great Lakes were opened to shipping, exotic species of aquatic animals have invaded the lakes. Nearly always it’s been bad news for the region’s native fish and wildlife. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on the latest effects of the invaders:

Transcript

Ever since the Great Lakes were opened to shipping, exotic species of aquatic animals have invaded the lakes. Nearly always it’s been bad news for the region’s native fish and wildlife. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on the latest effects of the invaders.


Some of the exotic species that have caused major problems in the Great
Lakes have been around since the 1940’s and ’50s. For example, the sea lamprey found its way into the lakes through manmade channels. It’s a parasite that attacks lake trout and other large game fish. It devastated the lake trout fisheries. Only recently have efforts gotten the lamprey under control. It’s still out there, but it’s not decimating the lake trout population as it once was.


More recently, a big concern has been the zebra mussel. It hitchhiked its way to the Great Lakes in the ballast water of cargo ships. In the last couple of decades the zebra mussel has caused major changes in all the lakes except for Superior where it seems limited to the shallow and warmer bays.


David Jude is a researcher with the University of Michigan’s Center for
Great Lakes and Aquatic Sciences. He says the huge numbers of zebra mussels siphon through lake water like a giant network of filters. There are so many of them that water in the lakes is actually clearer.


“I think people tend to hear about the water clarity increases. ‘Ah, the water’s clearer,’ you know, ‘That’s great!’ But it’s not great, because there’s a lot of things going on in the water column.”


Things such as, algae converting the sun’s energy into more phytoplankton.
Small fish and tiny invertebrate animals called zooplankton eat the phytoplankton and then they become food for fish. But, the zebra mussels filter out a lot of the phytoplankton, stealing food from the native zooplankton.


David Jude says a couple of other invaders are also causing havoc at the base of the food chain in the Great Lakes. Instead of eating just the green phytoplankton, zooplankton invaders from the Black and Caspian Seas also eat their North American cousins.


“These are predators. And they feed on the zooplankton, our native zooplankton that is out there already. So, not only do we have the impact of zebra mussels removing algae which is a food for these zooplankton, now we’ve got two predators that have been introduced and both of those will eat zooplankton which would have been food for fish to eat.”


Besides the zooplankton floating around in the water column, a major food source for fish is in the sediment at the bottom of the lakes, and it’s disappearing. James Kitchell is with the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He says many different kinds of fish depend on a little creature called diaporeia, which have become scarce in many areas.


“It appears to correlate in general with an increases in zebra mussels. So, there’s the prospect that diaporeia is literally starving to death as a consequence of zebra mussels eating the available food, but when you look at the diaporeia, they appear to be healthy. They’re not skinny and look to be starving. So that doesn’t explain it.”


It’s a big concern because a lot of fish that anglers like, such as yellow perch, depend on diaporeia for food.


Besides the zebra mussels and the two zooplankton predators, a fourth invader is causing problems. Populations of the round goby, an ugly, aggressive feeding little fish from Eastern Europe, have exploded in the Great Lakes. The round goby scours the bottom, eating the eggs and larvae of native fish. The University of Michigan’s David Jude says as big of a problem as the invasive fish has been over the last several years. The round goby’s future might soon be curtailed a bit.


“We did SCUBA dives in Lake Erie, for example, we’d turn over rocks. Round gobys would tear out from under the rocks and we’d have small mouth bass following us around and they would ignore the round gobys. They didn’t know how to catch a round goby. But, because there’s so many round gobys now, they had to learn how to eat them or die. So, the predators are definitely learning how to eat round gobys.”


Other native fish are beginning to eat the exotics. The silver chub, which once nearly disappeared from the Great Lakes, is making a bit of a comeback feasting on zebra mussels. With each invader, the lakes ecosystems go through upheaval, and then find a new balance. But make no mistake. It’s a different balance. Nicholas Mandrak is a researcher at Youngstown State University. He says exotic species invading the Great Lakes will mean continued changes, and for people who fish the lakes, not many of the changes will be good.


“You’re not going to be able to catch as many species that you’re used to catching. You know, the native species are going to decline. The walleye are going to decline. So, I think the bottom line is the recreational and commercial fisheries are going to change in a manner that is negative to most people.”


Researchers, though, have learned to be careful about predicting how invasive species will affect the lakes. They’re often surprised by the intricacies of the food web and the ecosystems that support it. Throwing an exotic invader into the mix makes it that much more unpredictable, and it will likely get worse. Mandrak says they’ve been studying how global warming might affect the lakes. One scenario suggests 30 to 40 new exotic species from the South will make their way through manmade canals as temperatures rise. For the biologists, it’s a worrisome concept. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

NATIVE LAKE SPECIES FIGHTING BACK (Short Version)

It appears that fish native to the Great Lakes are beginning to prey on some of the alien species that have invaded the lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

It appears that fish native to the Great Lakes are beginning to prey on some of the alien species that have invaded the lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.


Aquatic Species from Europe and elsewhere have hitchhiked to the Great Lakes in the ballasts of cargo ships for many years. A lot of them have upset the natural ecosystems of the lakes. Lately, though, some native fish are taking advantage of the invaders. Nicholas Mandrak is a researcher at Youngstown State University. He says a Great Lakes minnow that was once thought to have died out has recently re-emerged.


“And they’re eating zebra mussels. So, it looks like the increase
in silver chub is related to zebra mussels, so we finally found a native
fish that is benefiting from the zebra mussel.”


Other researchers say small mouth bass are beginning to prey on another invasive species, the round goby, which eats the eggs and larvae of fish native to the Great Lakes. The researchers say the benefits don’t outweigh the negative affects on native species. But it evens the score a little. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.