April 2018

After several false starts, spring is emerging from beneath Michigan’s snow mountains and icy shorelines. As the ground thaws and the end of the school year creeps closer, join us in preparing for everything a Michigan spring has to offer.


Six projects launch with Michigan Sea Grant’s support

What draws Michigan residents to pick up a fishing pole? Can algal bloom toxins become airborne? What creatures dwell in the wetlands that form between Lake Michigan’s dunes?

For the next two years, researchers around Michigan will strive to answer these questions — and others about Great Lakes ecosystems and communities — with Michigan Sea Grant’s support. 

Every two years, Michigan Sea Grant funds a wide variety of applied research projects led by teams based at Michigan universities. The 2018-2020 funding cycle will include two faculty-directed projects and four led by graduate students. The students will work closely with researchers at state, federal, and tribal agencies to advance existing research objectives.

“I am pleased with the quality and focus of the projects we will fund over the next two years,” says Michigan Sea Grant Director Jim Diana. “As usual, they are an eclectic group of topics, but span the breadth of research conducted in the Great Lakes. I am particularly pleased that we are providing funds for four graduate student research projects, as this format is new for us, and funding of student work in collaboration with federal and state agencies is a very efficient way to accomplish research that is important and valuable to these agencies.”

Read about the newest batch of funded projects:


Many of West Michigan’s coastal dunes house sensitive and complex wetland ecosystems. Despite supporting migratory birds and some of Michigan’s more precarious plant, animal, and insect species, these interdunal wetlands have not been fully inventoried. Tiffany Schriever, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Western Michigan University, will lead a study of the distribution patterns of amphibians, reptiles, and aquatic macroinvertebrates in interdunal wetlands on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. She will flag areas of high diversity and assess reproductive overlap to determine how neighboring communities are connected or isolated.


Since invading the Great Lakes, filter-feeding zebra and quagga mussels have brought increased water clarity to lakes Michigan, Huron, and Ontario. This has boosted the growth of bottom-dwelling filamentous algae like Cladophora, which washes ashore in stringy green mats to foul beaches and harbor harmful bacteria. The invading mussels also recycle phosphorus — a nutrient that feeds algal growth — through their feces. Pengfei Xue, an assistant professor in the Michigan Technological University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will lead a team building computer models to simulate how wave and current patterns influence the distribution of mussel-boosted phosphorus levels. They will investigate how that cycle affects Cladophora growth near Sleeping Bear Dunes and Grand Traverse Bay.


Alongside efforts to prevent and detect invasive Asian carp in the Great Lakes, scientists are also working to determine which areas might provide favorable habitat to invading carp. Current efforts to model potential carp habitat and distribution in Lake Michigan have only assessed surface conditions. University of Michigan graduate student Peter Alsip will work with NOAA scientists to develop a three-dimensional model of potential habitats for bighead carp in Lake Michigan, factoring in climate change and other long-term shifts in lake conditions.


What draws Michigan residents to pick up a fishing pole? How does a Lake Michigan fishing trip differ from an experience on Lake Superior? What might attract new anglers? These are questions Erin Burkett, a doctoral student at Michigan Technological University, and researchers at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources hope to answer. Recreational fishing rates are declining across Michigan, leading some to wonder whether this important economic engine will remain viable in the future. To understand angler motivation and experience, Burkett will engage groups of anglers in a form of qualitative data-gathering called “participatory photovoice,” a technique that encourages participants to snap photographs that capture the essence of their lived experience, then share the stories behind the images.


As harmful algal blooms become an annual fixture in Lake Erie’s western basin, it’s more vital than ever to understand the full effects of algal toxins on human and environmental health. A still-murky question is whether toxin molecules can become aerosolized, or airborne, in droplets of water kicked up by waves, strong winds, and watercraft. To test this, University of Michigan doctoral student Nicole Olson and staff from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will run water samples from Lake Erie and Lake Huron through a wave simulator to determine whether algal toxins and other organic material become airborne along with water droplets.


Rivers and streams linked to the Great Lakes serve as nursery and spawning habitat for many fish species. Unfortunately, these tributaries also provide channels for invasive species to move into inland waters. Stressors such as habitat loss, prior invasions, high nutrient levels, or pollution may render tributaries more vulnerable to colonization by new invasive species. Corey Krabbenhoft, a Ph.D. student at Wayne State University, will study this question, working with local watershed councils to quantify ecological stressors in seven Michigan rivers and gauge the relative impact of invasion by round goby.

The results of these research projects will stimulate further research and help natural resource managers make informed decisions about the best ways to ensure healthy, sustainable Great Lakes ecosystems and communities.

“We are excited to fund these new research projects and graduate fellowships,” says Catherine Riseng, Michigan Sea Grant research program manager. “These projects will help solve some of the challenging issues Michigan is facing today, from effects of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes, to better understanding one of our important and understudied natural resources — interdunal wetlands.”

Learn more about Michigan Sea Grant’s research program.


Paddling toward healthy ecosystems

By Mary Bohling

Paddlesports are among the fastest-growing outdoor activities in the United States, and that enthusiasm is reflected in an increase in water trails all over Michigan. Along with fantastic recreational opportunities, the increased availability and use of water trails also brings challenges, including concerns that these activities might help introduce or spread invasive species.

Paddling and Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) program planned

Michigan Sea Grant recently received a $200,000 grant from the state of Michigan to develop an AIS Paddling Stewardship Program. The program will train water trail users to identify and map invasive species along sections of at least 12 water trails throughout the state. It will also teach best practices for preventing the introduction or spread of invasive species through paddlesport activities. Program materials, training resources, and volunteer tool kits will be developed in 2018, and paddling workshops will be offered beginning in the spring of 2019.

By working directly with paddling groups and other volunteers, and by using proven and established campaigns and tools, the program can provide new opportunities to assist in monitoring and reporting the presence of invasive species. Examples of existing programs include:

In addition, through educational signage, videos, and a public awareness program, it will provide greater awareness about how to limit the introduction and spread of invasive species among paddlers, as well as non-paddlers.

Interested in a workshop?

If you are interested in attending a 2019 training workshop, send your contact information, including city of residence, to Mary Bohling at bohling@msu.edu. She will send information once training workshops have been scheduled.


News from our fellows

Michael Mezzacapo joined the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

A water steward’s work is never done: Michael Mezzacapo, current International Joint Commission Sea Grant fellow, spoke with outgoing IJC director Trish Morris about her water-centric career. Read his post.

Green infrastructure demonstrations are most effective in the rain, right? Photo: SEMCOG

Margo Davis, current Great Lakes Commission Sea Grant fellow, is helping spread green infrastructure practices through a new mentoring network. Read her post.


Michigan’s majestic mudpuppy stars in new video series

Michigan’s majestic mudpuppy is finally getting the attention it deserves. This sizeable salamander, with feathery red gills and a muddy brown exterior, has long fallen victim to anglers’ misconceptions. In fact, mudpuppies are sensitive to poor water quality, and their presence can signal a healthy water body.

In an effort to boost awareness and reduce stigmas surrounding these cool creatures, Michigan Sea Grant and a variety of partners are producing a series of short videos. Learn more about the role of mudpuppies in Michigan and what to do if a mudpuppy gets snagged on your fish hook.


Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle is a must-see art exhibit for Great Lakes lovers

By Cindy Hudson

Rockman’s panels reveal unseen interactions between natural habitats and human actions. Photo: Cindy Hudson

If you love the waters and creatures of the Great Lakes, you won’t want to miss the chance to see the Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle exhibition at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. But don’t delay — the magnificent art is nearing the end of its three-month run and will only be in town through April 29, 2018. After that, Michiganders will have to wait until 2020 for the paintings to return to the state.

The art museum commissioned the artist to research and create five mural-sized paintings, depicting the past, present, and future of the Great Lakes. Over the course of four years, Rockman traveled the Great Lakes region, met with scientists and other experts, and created this special display. Included in the exhibit are murals, watercolors, and field drawings.

Rockman’s five mural-sized paintings are filled with information and detail. His paintings have been described as “visual essays” and indeed tell a story that invokes wonder, appreciation, and also apprehension for the future of these critical waters. It is an important story for all of us to learn and know.

A critical resource

The large panels are packed with intricate details. Photo: Cindy Hudson

The Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, and their connecting channels — form the largest surface fresh water system on earth. Environmental stewardship, sustainable economic development, and responsible use of the Great Lakes are crucial components of keeping the lakes and the region vibrant. Rockman’s exhibit challenges viewers to remember how actions and decisions often have ripple effects on the lakes. Several of the large panels can be “read” from left to right, telling the evolutionary story and showing scientific and cultural timelines. Reading these paintings, one can’t help wondering what’s next for these important waters and be challenged to be a better steward of them for future generations.

The wood duck incorporates sediment from Ohio’s famous Cuyahoga River. Photo: Cindy Hudson

For the museum visitor, drawing keys help tell the story and identify each element contained in the large panels. The museum has also created a Great Lakes bingo game to capture the imagination of children and adults, but also impart facts and knowledge. Playing the game encourages real study of the individual elements of the panels.

The watercolors and field study drawings are magnificent, as well. In the field studies, Rockman has included sand, dirt, and other elements he collected during his travels around the region. His Common Snapping Turtle includes sand from Pictured Rocks, and his rendering of a wood duck includes sand from the Cuyahoga River. 

Book is a bonus you won’t want to miss

To add a layer to the experience of viewing Rockman’s paintings, be sure to pick up a copy of the exhibition catalogue, which was published by the art museum in association with Michigan State University Press. The book’s essays, descriptions, and vivid photographs make it a perfect way to enhance — and remember — the experience of standing in front of one of Rockman’s beautiful paintings. The catalogue was written by Dana Friis-Hansen, director of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, with contributions by Jeff Alexander and Thyrza Nichols Goodeve. One suggestion is to order the book online to read first, then see the exhibit. At the very least, pick up one at the museum store to study at leisure. The book also includes the detailed keys that explain each element of the large panels.

After leaving Grand Rapids, the exhibit will tour the Great Lakes region. The tour schedule will wrap up back in Michigan in 2020 with its visit to the Flint Institute of Arts. For more information, visit the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s website at www.artmuseumgr.org or contact Visitor Services at (616) 831-1000 or info@artmuseumgr.org.

Exhibition Touring Schedule:

Chicago Cultural Center – June 2 to Oct. 1, 2018
Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland – Oct. 19, 2018 to Jan. 27, 2019
Haggerty Museum of Art of Marquette University, Milwaukee – Feb. 8 to May 19, 2019
Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis – Oct. 5, 2019 to Jan. 5, 2020
Flint Institute of Arts – May 9 to Aug. 16, 2020


Upcoming events

Imagine a world with no more Great Lakes drownings at the 2018 Great Lakes Water Safety Conference in Evanston, Illinois, April 26-27. Register today for two days of life-saving technology, stories from drowning survivors, panels with public safety experts, and more.

Registration is now open for the 2018 National Working Waterfronts and Waterways Symposium! The symposium provides a forum for stakeholders from across the nation to connect and showcase innovative, successful, and timely solutions to waterfront and waterway issues. Michigan Sea Grant will host the 2018 Symposium May 14-17 in Grand Rapids. Find more information and registration details at: www.nationalworkingwaterfronts.com

Learn and share the latest fishery science and management updates for your favorite Great Lakes waters at this spring’s regional fishery workshops. Find agendas and registration details here. Upcoming workshops:

  • Rogers City – Tuesday, April 24, 6-9 p.m.
  • Houghton – Monday, April 30, 6-9 p.m.
  • Cedarville – Thursday, May 3, 6-9 p.m.

Watch for the 2018 Summer Discovery Cruises schedule, coming in early May!

Parents, register your young teen for Great Lakes Natural Resources Camp, held August 5-11 near Alpena. If you live near Saginaw Bay, keep your calendar open for Saginaw Bay Invasive Species day camps in Arenac County on June 25 and Bay County on July 12 (registration information and additional camp dates forthcoming).


From Extension

Michigan Sea Grant Extension educators write informative articles on a variety of subjects — from anglers participating in citizen science projects, to the debate about stocking cisco in Lake Michigan. Below are some of their articles from the past few weeks.

Four years of fishing data from Salmon Ambassadors show trends for wild, stocked salmon catch

By Dan O’Keefe

New report has insights from ongoing angler citizen science program.

Read more

Project F.I.S.H. training helps educators connect youth to fishing

By Meaghan Gass

Hands-on activities, games, and practice develop fishing skills, encourage conservation.

Read more

Nigerian fish farmers get safety training through Michigan Sea Grant program

By Ron Kinnunen

Attending training in Michigan helps representatives develop safety plans for smoked fish processing.

Read more

GLANSIS a “one-stop shop” for information on aquatic invaders

By Rochelle Sturtevant

Database provides profiles, maps, and further reading for scientists and citizens alike.

Read more

Bay Mills Community College to partner with Michigan Sea Grant on research project

By Elliot Nelson

The college will use $216,000 grant to study contaminants, biodiversity in their local waters.

Read more

Rare fish on rebound in northern Lake Michigan as pros, cons of stocking debated

By Dan O’Keefe

Anglers and conservationists weigh in on options for cisco management through workshops, videos.

Read more