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imagesBy Peter Huston

On July 7th, a beautiful summer day last month, politicians, scientists and a gaggle of reporters converged on OSU’s Stone Lab for the now annual “Algal Bloom Update”. Just days before the island press conference, a huge algal bloom had occurred off the east cost of Florida, enveloping the St Lucie River near Stuart Florida. If you missed it in the national news (covered by just about every major news outlet), check out the July 2nd NY Times story “Reeking, oozing algae closes south Florida beaches”.

The Florida bloom was so large that it could be seen from outer space. This man made, State of Florida disaster hit the eastern beaches just before the July 4th weekend creating havoc and lost revenue for the beach communities affected. Thought provoking visual evidence of what we need to avoid here in the Erie Islands where most of our livelihoods are connected to tourism.

The “good” news here in Ohio and specifically Put-in-Bay about our own chances of an algal bloom was reported later that Thursday in an AP wire story “Potentially toxic algae is expected to form again this summer in western Lake Erie but should be considerably less severe than the blooms that blanketed the lake and threatened drinking water supplies the previous two years.”

This is certain to be a topic of conversation at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and a boon to Florida governor Rick Scott where a combination of regulations and state flood water management actions led to their current problem. Scott, who declared an Algal Bloom “State of Emergency”, implored President Obama to do the same to enable Florida to access Federal funds for remediation. Short term clean up is their first priority in Florida, but long term solutions are what we are focusing on here in Ohio and the Great Lakes when the 12th Annual Great Lakes Restoration “Healing our Waters’ conference convenes at Cedar Point September 20-22.

For Ohio and the Lake Erie Islands, keeping our water clean and reducing run off that cause these blooms is a top priority. Many of the Great Lake States are taking notice and enacting more rigid legislation to curb or reduce the potential of a Florida like bloom.

There is a coalition of environmental groups that feels that the measures proposed so far by Michigan, Ohio and federal agencies are inadequate and should require farms to sharply curtail runoff of manure and other fertilizers. “We cannot just cross our fingers and hope for dry weather to ensure a healthy Lake Erie,” the groups said. “We strongly urge the U.S. and Canadian governments to move quickly to create effective, real world plans for reducing agricultural pollution.”

While many people come to Put-in-Bay to have swimming parties at our local pool bars, there is a significant number that want to access on our local beaches. In recent “travel and tourism” focus group research done by Lake Erie Shores and Islands many of the focus group members still recall the “Burning Cuyahoga” images of 1969 almost 50 years ago.

That type of lingering imagery may plague eastern Florida for years and it is why understanding our own ecosystem priorities in the western basin of Lake Erie is so important. We have two public “beaches” on South Bass, the small neatly groomed and landscaped (thank you garden club) beach at the end of Delaware Avenue and the larger pebble beach at the South Bass Island State Park.

Certain types of normal healthy algae will come into these beaches as the water warms every summer. These “good” algae are part of the lake ecosystem and necessary for fish and the related natural aquaculture. The toxic algal blooms are a result of the right conditions occurring when excess nitrogen runoff mingles with the lake water micro-organisms . According to Richard Stumph of NOAA “a bloom of mild to moderate size is likely to show up late this month, reach its peak size in August and possibly linger into October”
We need to be able to promote our island, maintain clean water to drink and ensure continued access to our local beaches. Our livelihood and long-term viability as a destination is built on the success of groups like Heal our Waters to promote solutions for Lake Erie so visitors can “reach our beaches” for years to come,

 

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