Students find winter is a perfect time to prepare for spring pollinator garden project

Alcona first-grade students spend day learning and preparing for their part in creating library garden.

Alcona elementary students enjoy creating their own caterpillars. Photo: Alcona Community Schools

Alcona elementary students enjoy creating their own caterpillars. Photo: Alcona Community Schools

Bees and butterflies, exploring native wildflowers, planting seed balls, and a painted caterpillar art project – all this adds up to a fun-filled morning learning about pollinators and native wildflowers with Alcona Community Schools. Students were not only applying their science and math, reading and art skills but also were preparing for a pollinator garden project they are creating in spring with their local library.

The Alcona County Library recently received a grant from the Laura Jane Musser Fund to create a community reading garden and book trail at their main branch in Harrisville, Mich. The library team has been planning the design with Alcona Community School educators, Michigan State University Extension staff, and other community partners – and at the center will be local students helping to accomplish this exciting project.

Alcona students from pre-school to high school will eventually contribute to the reading garden and trail. First-graders will begin by planting a pollinator garden in the shape of a colorful caterpillar to inspire an educational connection between native wildflowers and pollinators such as bees and butterflies. This shape was strategically chosen to complement the existing pollinator garden, which is in the shape of a butterfly. The original garden also was developed by teachers and students several years ago as a schoolyard habitat demonstration project at Alcona Elementary.

While planting the library garden won’t happen until spring, there are plenty of tasks to be accomplished in preparation. Recently student exploration included five simple yet purposeful (and fun) learning stations.

  • Art inspired: a painting project involved egg cartons cut into strips and turned upside down to look like caterpillars. Student art inspired their ideas about colors and creation of the soon to be caterpillar-shaped garden.
  • A science lesson: students learned in a hands-on way about pollinators such as bees and butterflies, along with a variety of native wildflowers that benefit pollinators.
  • Story problem solved by math: knowing six circle planters would be arranged to make their caterpillar garden, students used feed sacks filled with leaves to visually figure out how many bags of soil they would need to fill one circle. Applying their math and counting skills allowed them to figure a total amount of soil needed for their entire garden project.
  • A reason for reading: students read through a handful of nature books, picking a few of their favorites. Book titles and quotes from these favorites may be highlighted in signage created as part of the library project.
  • Hands-in-the-dirt learning: The class also explored a variety of native wildflowers (and colors of flowers) for their project; and got their hands dirty making ‘seed balls’ (moist soil balled up with a mix of native seeds). They planted these in their own local schoolyard habitats currently, while looking forward to planting more of seeds at the library this spring.

Part of a year-long place-based education effort, this fun-filled day represented was just one educational step toward creating their caterpillar-shaped pollinator garden. At the start of the school year, students launched their pollinator studies by raising, tagging, and releasing monarch butterflies as part of a Monarch Watch project. They also explored biodiversity of schoolyard habitats using tablets and the online iNaturalist citizen science project to document life found in their schoolyard pollinator garden and milkweed habitats. They also visited coastal Lake Huron habitats (important migratory habitats for monarchs) at DNR Harrisville State Park where they helped pick up litter and pull invasive spotted knapweed plants. Finally they made a quick visit to the library to see the site where their project would develop.

These native wildflower and pollinator habitat projects – both at the elementary school and soon to be at the library – are the result of place-based education learning effort led by Alcona educators with community partners supported through the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI). This project represents a fantastic school-community partnership where students and their stewardship project are relevant and valued by their community. Of equal value, lead educator Gail Gombos notes this project offers multiple learning values and hands-on experiences and gives her students an opportunity to expand learning in connection to the stewardship project throughout the entire school year.

Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension help provide leadership for the NEMIGLSI network, which is part of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI), a larger, statewide partnership. Professional development and project support for this project was also provided through the regional Sea Grant Center for Great Lakes Literacy.

What happens to my lake water quality monitoring data in a world of big data?

Citizen scientists collect valuable information to be used by researchers, policy-makers and natural resources managers.

Iowa State University student field technicians sample a lake in Iowa for the state's water quality monitoring program. Photo: Daniel Kendall, Iowa State University, Agriculture Communications

Iowa State University student field technicians sample a lake in Iowa for the state’s water quality monitoring program. Photo: Daniel Kendall, Iowa State University, Agriculture Communications

Michigan has a lot of inland lakes: 6,531 lakes 10 acres or larger, 2,649 are isolated with no streams flowing into or out of them, and the rest have some kind of stream flowing out or in, with all of them draining to the Great Lakes basin (Soranno et al. 2017). Residents of Michigan, especially those who live on lakes, are curious about the quality of water and food webs of their inland lakes. Because of their interest, residents often participate in opportunities such as Michigan State University Extension’s Introduction to Lakes Online educational program, volunteer water quality monitoring programs such as MiCorps Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program, or aquatic habitat improvement projects using Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ inland lake habitat viewer.

With all this lake monitoring data, one might ask…what happens to it? The data are used in a variety of ways. A team of researchers led by MSU professors Patricia Soranno and Kendra Spence Cheruvelil recently published findings from a big data project funded by the National Science Foundation that combined lake water quality monitoring data from 17 Midwestern and Northeastern states. This effort produced the lake multi-scaled geospatial and temporal database called LAGOS-NE, and is the first effort so far to combine water quality data from thousands of lakes and their surrounding landscapes. Large-scale data on a variety of lake water quality and landscape parameters helps advance freshwater conservation in an era of rapidly changing conditions. A large percentage of the data in this database was collected by citizen volunteers who play a critical role in ensuring our important freshwater resources are monitored.

LAGOS-NE is a publically accessible database that is available for informing research, policy, and management. Researchers might use the database to explore shifting patterns in species distribution or drivers of lake change. Policy-makers might use results from the database to inform lake specific nutrient standards or a dashboard of ecosystem services. Natural resource managers might use the database to prioritize areas for habitat conservation initiatives. 

The next time you enjoy fishing, swimming, or boating on any of the 50,000 mid-western or northeastern inland lakes, think about how big data and citizens have joined forces with computer sciences and aquatic ecology. If you do not already participate in a volunteer monitoring programs, consider making 2018 your year to contribute local water quality data. In addition to providing information about the local waterways important to Michigan, these data are also important for global freshwater sciences.

Registration is open for MSU Extension’s next Introduction to Lakes Online session. The class will be held Jan. 23–March 9, 2018. Registration deadline is Jan. 16, 2018. 

National Parks of the Great Lakes – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on mighty Lake Superior provides incredible recreational opportunities.

Kayakers paddle in Lake Superior near a sandstone cliff of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. Photo: Todd Marsee, Michigan Sea Grant

Kayakers paddle in Lake Superior near a sandstone cliff of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. Photo: Todd Marsee, Michigan Sea Grant

The United States National Park Service not only administers parks, it also is responsible for designated lakeshores, historic sites, battlefields, and memorials. In addition, it oversees historic and scenic trails located in the Great Lakes watershed. One of the most unique National lakeshores – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – is the focus of this second article in this series on the National Parks of the Great Lakes.

If you’ve ever visited Michigan’s Upper Peninsula between Munising to the west and Grand Marais to the east, you’ve probably seen the famous cliffs and formations for which this park is named. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore includes 42 miles of Lake Superior coast, with colorful sandstone cliffs – some reaching 200 feet in height – extending along 15 miles of shoreline. Impressive in themselves, you can also find where they have been sculpted by nature into arches, caves – both above and below the water’s surface.

Lots to do

But there is much more to this lakeshore than just colorful cliffs. Miles of lovely beaches and huge sand dunes, forest trails, shipwrecks, and waterfalls are also along this part of the Lake Superior coast. Campers and hikers will enjoy the 100 miles of hiking trails. The park’s website can direct hikers to short day jaunts or longer treks. Backcountry camping is available but permits are required. Also, it is important to be prepared so visit the website for many good suggestions on what equipment and safety precautions you should take while visiting the park as well as a calendar of events and how to plan your trip.

Interested in maritime history? You can learn about the U.S. Lifesaving Service, the U.S. Lighthouse Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard at multiple sites along the shore, such as the Au Sable Light Station. And don’t miss the Alger Underwater Preserve in Munising, which features shipwrecks, educational glass bottom boat tours, interpretive underwater trails, and sea caves (see Michigan’s underwater preserves offer unique views of Great Lakes maritime heritage for more on Michigan’s underwater preserve system).

Artwork by Todd Marsee a watercolor landscape inspired by Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Art in the park

One of the unique opportunities offered at many National Parks, including Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, is the Artist-in-Residence program. Residencies usually last 2-4 weeks and artists share their art with park visitors. This past summer Todd Marsee, Michigan Sea Grant’s senior graphic designer, served as artist-in-residence at Pictured Rocks. Todd shared his thoughts about his experience:

“Being chosen from a pool of applicants to be the Artist in Residence (AIR) at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was a huge honor. I was fortunate to have this time to focus on my painting – off the grid. In these days of constant digital chatter, I found it extremely rewarding, as I produced 20 paintings at the cabin, and 6 additional in the works. My camera was with me all the time, capturing the many moods of Lake Superior. These photos helped inspire many paintings and are also being used here at Michigan Sea Grant. I was able to experience the shoreline when the Lake was smooth as glass and when there were waves nearing 10 feet in the open water. I saw the juxtaposition of nature’s beauty and awesome power all in one place.

The North Country Trail is literally right on the edge of the Lake in many places. It meanders into the woods for parts of the hike, but you are rewarded with an amazing Lake vista every time the path meets back up to the water. Color was a big inspiration in the work produced during the AIR. When the lighting is just right, the Lake is a brilliant blend of greens and blues. Rock hunting also brings all sorts of bright colors.”

If you’re an artist, check into the artist-in-residence program at many of the National Parks. And even if you’re not an artist, you’ll find that Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers an incredible experience for you and your entire family.  Contact the Munising Falls Visitor Center, 1505 Sand Point Road, Munising, MI (phone 906-387-4310) for more information.

Read the National Parks of the Great Lakes series

Great Lakes waves can make lake viewing dangerous

Don’t get swept away this winter while sightseeing near the Great Lakes.

Waves on Lake Michigan crash over nearshore structures.  Photo: Justin Selden, Michigan State University Extension

Waves on Lake Michigan crash over nearshore structures. Photo: Justin Selden, Michigan State University Extension

Winter is a spectacular time to visit Great Lakes shorelines. Intense storms lead to massive waves crashing over breakwaters and lighthouses with stunning dark skies as backdrops. While these waves and weather make for interesting viewing, they can also be life threatening.

Drownings occur in the Great Lakes every year. According to the Great Lakes Surf and Rescue Project, at least 99 people drowned in the Great Lakes in 2016. Many of these deaths happen when people swimming end up in dangerous currents such as rip or structural-caused currents. Other drownings happen because of boating or kayaking accidents. And several deaths each year occur when people are blown or washed off breakwaters, docks, cliffs and other similar nearshore structures.

The months of October, November and December are when extremely windy days will kick up massive waves across all five of the Great Lakes. On Oct. 24, 2017, one such storm swept across the northern Great Lakes. Buoys run by the Great Lakes Observation System (GLOS), a critical Great Lakes information-collecting network, recorded record wave height on Lake Superior with waves reaching an incredible 28.8 feet in height. With the waves came many sightseers eager to witness the display of force by the lake. Unfortunately, two people observing from a popular cliff-like rock formation near Marquette were swept into the lake and lost their lives.

Lake Superior isn’t the only lake where high winds and crashing waves have resulted in the loss of life. Fishermen on Lake Michigan standing on local breakwaters have been swept away or fallen into the water under high wind and icy conditions. Some folks walking or jogging along shorelines near Chicago have also fallen into the lake when large waves washed over them. The mix of high waves, strong winds, and often icy conditions can make piers, nearshore cliffs and breakwalls all dangerous structures.

Preventing these drownings in the Great Lakes can be as easy as checking the weather report. Any month of the year there is the potential for high waves in the Great Lakes. If you are headed to a Great Lakes shoreline to walk out on a breakwater, climb some nearshore rocks, or jog along a lakeshore path, it’s important to know what the predicted wave and wind patterns will be for the day. If the waves and winds will be high, then stay away from these types of areas. Be aware that icy buildups can increase your risk of falling in even on relatively calm days. It’s better to watch waves and the water from a safe distance, than to risk losing it all.

Sea Grant Seeks Proposals for Aquaculture Research

The NOAA National Sea Grant College Program 2018 Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes National Aquaculture Initiative federal funding opportunity is now open. 

Depending on appropriations, NOAA Sea Grant expects to have available a total of $7,000,000 to $11,500,000 across fiscal years 2018, 2019, and 2020 as part of the Sea Grant National Aquaculture Initiative (NAI). This federal funding competition is designed to foster the expansion of a sustainable U.S. ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes aquaculture sector by addressing one or more of the following priorities:

  • Supporting the development of emerging systems or technologies that will advance aquaculture in the U.S., including projects that will help stimulate aquaculture production by nascent industries.
  • Developing and implementing actionable methods of communicating accurate, science-based messages and information about the benefits and risks of U.S. marine aquaculture to the public. And
  • Increasing the resiliency of aquaculture systems to natural hazards and changing conditions.
Complete proposals are due from eligible parties to Sea Grant programs on March 2, 2018 at 5 p.m. local time. 
 
Applicants are strongly encouraged to reach out to their Sea Grant Program one to two months prior to the Sea Grant program application deadline to receive guidance regarding proposal development and discuss their proposed project(s). 
 
Proposals from Sea Grant programs are due in grants.gov by March 30, 2018
 
Please refer to the FFO for all planning and formal guidance. 
 

National Parks of the Great Lakes should be on your bucket list

U.S., Canada have each preserved lakeshores and parks of these beautiful natural resources.

Voyageurs National Park Photo courtesy NPS

Voyageurs National Park Photo courtesy NPS

Are you someone who loves to travel? If so, you have probably visited at least one or two of our National Parks. And you probably have a list of additional parks you’d like to visit when times allows. The good news for those of us in the Great Lakes region is that we have many National Parks at our doorstep – or more appropriately, shoreline – than in many other parts of North America.

On the American side of the Great Lakes, the National Park Service has set aside special areas, called units in the National Park System, to preserve “the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” These include three National Parks and four National Seashores. On the Canadian side, Parks Canada has done much the same, designating six National Parks, one National Marine Park, and one National Marine Conservation Area.

In the coming months we’ll be getting to know the varied parks on both sides of the border through a series of articles looking at their diverse natures and locations. From the Isle Royale and Voyageurs National Parks in the U.S., to the Georgian Bay Islands and Bruce Peninsula National Parks in Canada, we’ll see just how special these areas are and how they highlight some of the most unique features of the Great Lakes. Following are a couple of teasers to spark your interest in some of the articles ahead.

Do you know which parks can be found in the world’s largest freshwater archipelago? Or which park is at the southernmost point of the Canadian mainland? Do you know which Great Lakes park is the only U.S. national park to completely close during the winter? To get the answers to these questions and discover a host of fascinating facts about our Great Lakes national parks, look for the upcoming articles in this series.

New book about amphibians and reptiles a good read

“Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region, Revised Edition” offers readers a glimpse into the world of herpetofauna

An American Toad is one of the Great Lakes amphibians featured in a newly revised book. Photo: Mary Bohling, Michigan Sea Grant

An American Toad is one of the Great Lakes amphibians featured in a newly revised book. Photo: Mary Bohling, Michigan Sea Grant

Growing up in Michigan, I recall encounters with some special amphibians and reptiles including Spring Peepers in the Les Chenaux Islands, Eastern Fox Snakes along the Lake Erie shoreline, Mudpuppies, and Blanding’s Turtles in the Detroit River and American Toads on Isle Royale. Recently I read a newly revised edition of the book, “Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region,” by James H. Harding and David A. Mifsud, which helped me learn even more about the creatures I’ve seen over the years.

The book includes range maps, photos and other key information for each reptile and amphibian species known to occur naturally within the Great Lakes basin along with limited information for marginal and questionable species. Also included are definitions to help readers understand these often mysterious and misunderstood species.

Are you a herp-watcher?

Readers will learn that herpetology is the scientific study of amphibians and reptiles while herpetofauna is used to describe amphibians and reptiles occurring in a defined geographic area, and that amphibians include frogs, toads, salamanders and caecilians and reptiles include turtles, tortoises crocodilians, lizards, snakes and tuatara.

The concept of “herp-watching” (think bird-watching but substitute animals with feathers for those with scales, slimy skin or shells) is also discussed. This recreational hobby offers an alternative to keeping amphibians and reptiles as pets. Herp-watchers can also play an important role in protection and conservation by documenting observations using web and mobile apps such as the Michigan Herp Atlas.

Management strategies considered

The conservation section for each species explains the animal’s relationship with humans such as economic importance, population trends, threats posed by human activities and possible management strategies. One of the things I found interesting in the habitat and ecology section was the feeding behaviors of some of the species, particularly those that rely on smell and sound to detect prey. I especially liked reading about the Kirtland’s snake because, although its range includes where I live in southeast Michigan, I had never even heard of the species. This little secretive snake lives most of its life below ground in burrows constructed by other animals or under leaf piles, rocks and logs and can flatten itself and become immobile when threatened.

Harding and Mifsud have compiled a wealth of herpetofauna information of use as a reference to non-specialists as well as professional herpetologists. I would recommend this book to anyone with a curiosity about or passion for amphibians and reptiles.

Bird Counts across Michigan

The longest running citizen science project in the world celebrates its 118th year.

Birders are all bundled up at Tahquamenon Falls in the winter. Photo: Elliot Nelson | Michigan Sea Grant

Birders are all bundled up at Tahquamenon Falls in the winter. Photo: Elliot Nelson | Michigan Sea Grant

In 1900, an ornithologist (aka bird scientist) named Frank Chapman proposed a new holiday tradition, to count birds across the entire country. Conservation was in its early days, and Chapman was concerned about the decline in many of the bird species he loved. Frank Chapman’s idea was to collect data across the country on what birds were present and in what numbers to provide information on how bird populations were changing. Over the years this count, became known as the Christmas Bird Count. The count, which is organized by the National Audubon Society, has gained in popularity. In 1900, there were 24 counts from California to New York. Now there are over 2,500 counts ranging from Antarctica to Brazil to the farthest reaches of Alaska each year.

Fun and serious science

While counting the birds is a fun holiday tradition, the data collected is serious business. The data stored by the National Audubon Society is being used by ornithologists around the world for important research. The information collected in the counts can be used to track how bird populations are changing over time and how habitat changes can effect bird populations.

What is particularly unique about the Christmas Bird Counts is that they are run by volunteers with data collected by ordinary citizens from across the country. Anyone can volunteer to assist a particular count regardless of skill level.

Volunteers still needed

In Michigan there are around 65 counts that take place. Each count is organized on the local level by passionate volunteers or organizations such as Michigan AudubonThe Nature Conservancy and Michigan Sea Grant/Michigan State University Extension.

Each count is held on one day between December 14 and January 5. Many surveys take place during the weekend to attract the most participants and many counts are still looking for volunteers. If you are interested in participating in the Christmas Bird Count you can check out this interactive map to find the count closes to you. You can also contact the Michigan Audubon or one of their local chapters and they can help point you towards a count close to you. For more information on participating in a count read this Michigan Audubon article.

The holidays are a great time of year to get out and experience the outdoors. Why not contribute to science while you are at it?

MSU prof seeks crowdfunding support for Great Lakes fish diet research

You can be a part of this important study by donating to support student researchers analyzing stomach samples from Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

As we all know, the Great Lakes have changed a lot in the last decade or so. Alewife have declined, round goby are increasing, and lake trout and walleye continue to recover. Chinook salmon, the heart of Lake Michigan’s fishery, have fluctuated in numbers in the past few years, and have collapsed in Lake Huron. Our fisheries agencies must make informed decisions regarding stocking and levels to support both fisheries and conservation goals. These decisions are based in part on what those predators are eating. What predators eat is an excellent indicator of ecosystem health, and can help tell us how sustainable the fishery is.

With the tremendous help of recreational anglers, MSU together with state, federal, and tribal agencies have collected nearly 2,000 predator stomachs from around Lake Michigan and Huron. We need help to be able to analyze all of them, particularly those from Lake Michigan. MSU has a wealth of potential help in terms of undergraduate students eager to gain valuable research experience. However, funding is needed to pay these students for their work.

Would you help by contributing to this research effort?

With the help of MSU CrowdPower, any donations made at the website will go directly to the predator diet study. Any donation will help, and all donations are tax deductible.

Want to stay up-to-date on the project? 

We have several other ways to connect including:

Alpena students’ project yields more than 1,000 pounds of invasive frogbit

First- and fifth-grade students remove invasive species from Great Lakes watershed, clean up along the Thunder Bay River — and captured it all on film.

Alpena elementary students work alongside NEMIGLSI network coordinator, Meaghan Gass, to identify and remove invasive European frogbit. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

Alpena elementary students work alongside NEMIGLSI network coordinator, Meaghan Gass, to identify and remove invasive European frogbit. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

More than 100 first- and fifth-graders from Alpena Public Schools got their feet wet this fall contributing to an invasive species removal effort in their local watershed. Visiting the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary and the Maritime Heritage Trail along the shores of Thunder Bay River these students removed more than 1,000 pounds of invasive European frogbit, conducted litter cleanups, and did a little filmmaking to raise public awareness about their project.

Removal of European frogbit, newly found in the Thunder Bay watershed, took center stage as the primary stewardship project for participating students. This invasive plant grows in large, thick mats that block sunlight to the aquatic plants beneath it; therein threatening the health of surrounding plants and aquatic wildlife. Community and conservation leaders – with helping hands from these students – have prioritized removal efforts to help reduce and prevent the spread of this new invader to the local watershed. Student efforts contributed in accomplishing the Huron Pines frogbit challenge, where the collective community (with students) worked together to remove close to 3,500 pounds in 2017.

To get the ball rolling, fifth-graders from Hinks Elementary visited Duck Park where they donned waders and life jackets, grabbed rakes and buckets, and after learning to identify frogbit, started pulling the plant. Two hours later, they had pulled close to 500 pounds of frogbit from the river. Arriving later in the afternoon that same day, fifth-graders from Besser Elementary removed more frogbit, and also conducted an Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-A-Beach litter clean up along the Thunder Bay River. Over the course of three hours they picked up more than 12 pounds of trash and removed more than 700 pounds of frogbit. Meanwhile, on the Maritime Heritage trail, first-graders from Lincoln Elementary removed nearly 20 pounds of frogbit and eight pounds of trash along the river.

a picture of European frogbit that grows in thick mats in water

Throughout the day students shared their experience with local media – but also collected their own photos, video footage and interviews using iPads provided through the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI) in order to share their stories. Students provided a public service by removing invasive species and they also learned the importance of raising community awareness on these issues. They hope to produce a short film highlighting the dedication of their class, teachers and community partners to keeping our Great Lakes clean and free of invasive species.

A great example of place-based stewardship education in action, this experience offered opportunity to expand students’ learning beyond the four walls of the classroom while partnering with their community to accomplish this river habitat improvement goal. These enthusiastic students from three different schools collectively engaged in a fun-filled, hands-on learning experience while enhancing the Thunder Bay watershed and Lake Huron habitats within their own local Alpena community.

Teachers from Besser, Hinks and Lincoln Elementary schools facilitated this effort through the NEMIGLSI network and partnership.

Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension help provide leadership for the network, which is part of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI), a larger, statewide partnership. Other NEMIGLSI network partners collaborating with the schools and providing leadership for this project included: Huron PinesHuron Pines AmeriCorpsAlpena Wildlife Sanctuary, and NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.