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The ecological issues on Lake Erie

The research work is focused on an in-depth look at the issue of mercury build up in form of methyl mercury in the fish on Lake Erie and the impact of this phenomenon to the environment which includes the water, soil, organisms and the human beings. The environmental problems on the Lake Erie ecosystem serve as early warning signals to the other great lakes. (United States and Canada 2002) Lake Erie being the shallowest of the lakes and the one with the shortest water retention time it also has the largest watershed that is relative to its size and the highest human population density.

All these factors converge in making the Lake Erie a lake where all the ecological disruptions most of the times shows up first. If there is a clearer understanding on the lakes ecological disruptions symptoms perhaps similar problems could be avoided on the other great lakes There are rapid ecological changes which are occurring in the Lake Erie ecosystem and further evidence suggests that these changes involve a lot of complex and more often poorly understood interactions between very many factors.

It is also important to note that the Lake Erie needs recognition of the need to address the physical, chemical, and the biological integrity of the lake. Introduction Lake Erie is the tenth largest lake on earth and it is one of the five great lakes of North America and it is the shallowest as well as the smallest in the great lakes region. It is named after the Erie tribe of the Native Americans. Lake Erie is primarily fed by the river Detroit and it drains its water through the Niagara River and also the Niagara falls into the lake Ontario.

The length of the river is maximally 388 kms and the maximum width is 92 km. It also has a surface area of 9940 square meters and an average depth of 19 meters as well as a water volume of 484 kilometers. (Sproule, 2002) Figure 1. The shore of Lake Erie as seen from Long Point Figure 2. Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes Source; Lake Erie islands directory (2007): The ecology of Lake Erie. Retrieved from http://www. lakeerieislands. us/ accessed on 13th October 2007 The lake has more than 24 islands and several settlements.

The lake creates a very favorable environment for the agricultural work in the bordering areas of New York, Ohio, Ontario and Pennsylvania. It has also been a home to the numerous fish species for many years and this makes it a popular site for the commercial fishing. On the other hand there has been a discovery of very high levels of pollution in the lake and this issue has had a great impact on the lakes ecological setting as well as the neighboring environs. This has further led to the regulation of the commercial fishing on the lake as well as the instigation of safety measures in order to protect the lake.

(Sproule, 2002) Since the lake became infamously polluted in the 1960s and the 1970s the lake has been legendry been declared as a dead lake but both the commercial fishing and the sporting events on the lake has been continuing without any interruption to this present day. Ecological principles and cycles impacting this phenomenon Lake Erie is in dire big trouble and the entire great lakes system as many scientists have documented the seasonal reappearance of the enormous oxygen deprived dead zone that has evidence of a fundamental imbalance of the ecosystem.

There is also a widespread of the massive mats of the smelly algae which floats along the shorelines. In the recent past the lake experienced a disaster whereby there were corpses of thousands and thousands of the loons, the mergansers, the ducks and the gulls which had been washed up on the lakes shores. On the other hand the population of the key fish species on Lake Erie is drastically falling as well as the world’s most valuable fresh water fishery.

The chemical pollutants as well as the biological pollutants have been major contributing factors to the lakes ecology especially in the Sandusky basin which is in the west of the Pelle-Lorrain Ridge. The Sandusky basin is a very integral part of the Lake Erie central basin. A lot has lately been done to clean up the lake and other rivers in the basin but there has been more fish in the water and more are catching and eating them. It has however been discovered that the fish have potentially harmful chemicals which includes mercury deposits and some fish have more chemicals because of their sources.

All the fish in the Lake Erie Sandusky basin contain mercury and the larger and the older fish build up the chemical from each fish they eat and the human beings in this area build up chemicals from each fish they eat. It is however difficult to identify the fish or other marine life which contains mercury and other chemicals since they may not taste, look or even taste different or bad. (Krantzberg, 2003) The Lake Erie Sandusky basin has been identified in the great lakes as one with the most contaminated shoreline and much of the contamination originates from the present or past industrial and urban areas.

There are so many collaborating partners who have taken action in the reduction of the mercury contamination as a special issue of concern because of its long lived survival in the surrounding environment and also its tendency to build up in the food chain. (Hartig and Zarull 1992) Mercury is a naturally occurring element which is toxic and persistent as well as very bioaccumulative pollutant in nature. Its most familiar form is liquid elemental mercury which is a silver grey shiny and odorless metal but it also takes many other different forms in the environment.

It is mostly released in the environment in its inorganic form or either in its ionic or elemental form Most of the ionic mercury emissions are deposited within the region of their source while the elemental further enters the atmospheric reservoir where it can remain for a long time and potentially travel to very long distances. When mercury is released into the environment the inorganic mercury is further converted into organic mercury which is bioaccumulated and reaches dangerous levels in the fish at the top of the aquatic food chain.

Mercury is known as a potent neurotoxin that is highly capable of fatally affecting the human beings as well as the environment at large. The Inorganic mercury can be very dangerous especially it is inhaled or even ingested and specifically the methyl mercury which has the ability to take part in the biochemical reactions and also build up in the food chain. In the contaminated systems along each link of the food chain the concentration of methyl mercury in the tissues of the successive species increases through bioaccumulation.

The most important initial step in this process is whereby the inorganic mercury is efficiently taken up by the bacteria into the Sandusky basin on Lake Erie. These organisms are the ones that form a base in the food chain and they convert the mercury into methyl mercury. The methyl mercury is then is then taken up by the algae which are phytoplankton’s. The zooplanktons and the insects consume the phytoplanktons and they gain not only the energy that they need but also the stored methyl mercury as well. Fig, 3 & 4

Source; Lake Erie islands directory (2007): The ecology of Lake Erie. Retrieved from http://www. lakeerieislands. us/ accessed on 13th October 2007 The zooplanktons and the insects are then consumed by the by the amphibians and the small fish in large quantities which in turn become the food the larger fishes that are the predators. Through this whole process the top predator which is the big fishes can harbor the mercury concentrations in their tissues that are a million times higher in concentration quantities other than in the surrounding water.

When the people and even some animals consume these fishes that have accumulated the methyl mercury then it is transferred to their bodies. (Harris, Nielsen, McLaughlin and Becker. 2003) The lakes ecosystem has so much changed from its original state with many invasive species which have well established themselves. The common fish species have all been introduced from the outside of the great lakes and the non-native sport fish continues to be stocked for the anglers to catch.

The effort to stock the lake with the Coho salmon has since failed and this particular species is once again almost absent from the lake. There are also recent invaders to Lake Erie Sandusky basin and they include the quaga and the zebra mussels which have highly populated the entire regions’ ecosystem altering the flow through the food web far away from the pelagic zone and into the benthic zone. Figures, 4,5,6,7, Source; Lake Erie islands directory (2007): The ecology of Lake Erie. Retrieved from http://www. lakeerieislands.

us/ accessed on 13th October 2007 central Erie basin The zebra mussels are filter feeders and they are a great nuisance to the people living on the great lakes region. They have covered the undersides of the docks the anchors as well as the boats and they have also spread into streams and rivers on Lake Erie. They grow so close together so that they block off the pipelines greatly impacting the water intake pipes that are used by the nearby cities for their water supply or even by the hydroelectric companies for their power generation.

Local issues affecting human beings and their relationships to Lake Erie The issue of mercury contamination in the Sandusky basin on Lake Erie is a huge threat to the people in that environment as well as other ecological cycles in the same environs. The contaminated fish have adverse effects on the nervous system of the human beings and it mainly affects the brain. It can also lead to paralysis as well as death in the most severe cases. (Great Lakes Water Quality Board 1985)

Similarly the mercury contamination through the rain water contributes to the pollution load in Lake Erie and it also poses a serious threat to the wildlife in that area. Since there are higher levels of concentration of the methyl mercury which has accumulated in the species that are near the top of the food chain then the fish eating birds, the mammals and the larger predator fish are the most at risk for the harmful effects. In Lake Erie there has been various issues of concern since the lake has been undergoing changes in the physical chemical and the biological settings .

they include; tainting of the fish and the wildlife flavor, the restrictions of the fish and the wildlife consumption, the degradation of the fish and the wildlife populations, eutrophication, beach closings, restrictions on the dredging activities, loss of fish and the wild life habitat and also the degradation of phytoplankton and the zooplanktons. Point Sources pollution The point sources pollution occurs when the pollutant enters the waterway directly and this could be in form of the wastes being dumped into the waterway.

In the past the dumping of wastes into Lake Erie and its other waterways was very common and this constant dumping made the lakes water became contaminated with the toxic chemicals and the human wastes. The other point sources pollutions on lake Erie includes; runoffs from construction sites, runoffs from mines oil fields and unsewered industrial sites, overflows of combined storms and the sanitary sewers and the runoffs and leachate from the waste disposal systems. (Reeves, 1999) Non-point sources water pollution

There are also non point sources of pollution on Lake Erie Sandusky basin and this occurs when the run offs from the streets and other nearby waterways carries the chemicals and the toxins into the lake thus polluting the build up of the lakes sediments. This source of pollution is seen as the most problematic and it is the hardest to reverse and this is because it is very hard to regulate and pinpoint the source or the origin of the pollutant. The lake has become unstable in its ecosystem with a large amount of the flora being fed on by the local lawns with their fertilizers thus killing off many fish species and the other water life.

(Colby, 1971) Figure 10; Source; Lake Erie islands directory (2007): The ecology of Lake Erie. Retrieved from http://www. lakeerieislands. us/ accessed on 13th October 2007 An example of the non-point sources includes; the runoffs from abandoned mines, land activities that generate contaminants, urban runoffs from the unsewered areas, septic tank leachate, atmospheric deposition over a water surface and the runoffs from the construction sites. The potential solutions

The Lake Erie basin should network with other groups in identifying the existing protected areas and any other available possibilities for the expansion of the protected areas. The government should also encourage the protection of the more natural areas in the Lake Erie region as well as identify the existing special management zones and the protection measures for the lake uses. The government should also support any arising opportunities in the establishment of the appropriate conservation areas in the Lake Erie marine life.

(Bertram, Neilson, L’Italien, Glumac, and Williams, 995) The government should also identify and focus on some pilot watersheds so as to ensure that the management plans have adequately addressed the lake effect zones of the major tributaries along with the head water together with the upper tributary actions. Finally the government and other concerned environmental bodies should highly focus on the protection of the habitats from any other further chemical contamination and also encourage the restoration of the contaminated areas and sites in the Lake Erie basin.

On the other hand the government should also improve its mercury monitoring process from the point to the non-point sources and further determine the relative contributions of the external loadings over the internal cycling. Similarly it should also improve on the research in order to resolve the questions on the causes and the effect linkages between the observed ecosystem changes and the various stressors.

The government should also ensure that the research and the monitoring improvements employ an ecological modeling frame work which enables the most cost effective as well as the ecologically meaningful programs to be developed and also implemented. Conclusion The issues on Lake Erie are very complex in nature and in addressing these overlapping and interactive issues which affect the lake today it needs a greater level of the binational communication and the cooperation from other parties than ever before.

There still exists a huge and significant information gap which makes it very difficult for the policy makers to further determine the kind of actions to be taken so that the lakes ecological integrity can be improved. (Botts, & Muldoon, 1996) Since the lakes ecosystem is undergoing very dynamic changes there is need for the scientists to conduct more comprehensive biological investigations and also cover the effects of the invasive aquatic species, the climatic changes, and the other factors as well as improving on the measurements of the mercury loading.

The investigations should also clarify if the observed environmental changes are as a result of the increased mercury loadings from the outside sources of the lake or this could also be due to the zebra mussels and other environmental changes or factors. Reference: Botts, L. & P. Muldoon (1996):

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, its Past Successes and Uncertain Future Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire Bertram P. , M. Neilson, S. L’Italien, V. Glumac, and D. Williams, (1995): Nutrients Trends and System Response Background paper for State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference, Environment Canada and the US Environmental Protection Agency Windsor, Ontario Colby, P. J. (1971): Alewife Dieoffs, Why Do They Occur? Limnos, The Magazine of the Great Lakes Foundation 4: 18-27. Great Lakes Water Quality Board (1985): Report on Great Lakes Water Quality. Report to the International Joint Commission. Harris, C. C. , E. A.

Nielsen, W. J. McLaughlin and D. R. Becker. (2003): Community-based social impact assessment, the case of salmon-recovery on the lower Snake River. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 21: 109-118 Hartig, J. H. and M. A. Zarull (1992): Under RAPs. Toward Grassroots Ecological Democracy in the Great Lakes Basin. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. Krantzberg, G. (2003): Keeping Remedial Action Plans on target, lessons learned from Collingwood Harbor.

Journal of Great Lakes Research pgs 641-651. Reeves, E. (1999): An IJC White Paper on Policies for the Prevention of the Invasion of the Great Lakes by Exotic Organisms July 15, 1999 Sproule, J. (2002): The Restoration of the Great Lakes. University of British Columbia Press. United States and Canada (2002): Great Lakes BinationalToxics Strategy 2002. Lake Erie islands directory (2007): The ecology of Lake Erie. Retrieved from http://www. lakeerieislands. us/ accessed on 13th October 2007

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