Preserving the Heart of Michigan’s Coastal Communities
By Joyce Daniels, editor
The term “working waterfront” has made headlines in Maine, North Carolina and Florida, where segments of extensive coastline support a mix of waterfront business and recreation. Now the concept is gaining attention in Michigan.
“We need to be able to plan ahead for different uses or functions in our coastal area,” says Michigan Sea Grant Extension Program Leader Chuck Pistis. “The Great Lakes are being touted as part of a new vision for Michigan’s economy. Viable working waterfronts are essential to this new vision.” For now, he adds, it’s important to preserve our options for the future.
Pistis and Sea Grant Extension Educator Mark Breederland gave an overview of the working waterfront concept at the annual Recreational Boating and Education Conference in Bay City, December 4th. While a strict definition may vary from one community to another, some general ideas are fundamental.
Public Access a Key Issue
A working waterfront, explains Breederland, allows access to public trust waters for commerce and recreation. In many cases, it combines the busy landscape of water-dependent businesses—from commercial fishermen, to charter boat operations and marinas—with public access points, and a variety of services.
“It’s often a vibrant combination of activities,” says Breederland. “It’s a place where people make a living, and also a place where the public can enjoy the waterfront and actually get out on the water. A working waterfront is often the heart of Michigan’s port cities and waterfront communities.”
In a national context, the problem in some coastal states is mounting economic pressure to convert working waterfronts to non-essential coastal uses.
The result is a gradual loss of water access and docking. Without these, water-dependent businesses are unable to operate, and related businesses, including the stores, shops, services and restaurants that cater to boaters, fishermen, and even to waterfront tourists, also suffer.
In Maine, for example, most of its lengthy shoreline, stretching thousands of miles, is privately held. Only 20 miles of coastline remain as working waterfront. Maryland, North Carolina, Alabama and Florida are among the other states grappling with the issue.
Planning for the Future
Just as the challenge is different depending on location, so too are the solutions.
In Maine, a diverse coalition of stakeholders used ordinances, legislation, and grant funding as tools to preserve water access for fishermen.
In Florida, 70 percent of voters recently approved a state constitutional amendment to protect access and working waterfronts. Amendment 6 now provides tax incentives for landowners who wish to maintain working waterfront properties and public access to Florida’s waterways.
On a federal level, legislation was introduced last year to help preserve working waterfronts. The bill, Keep Our Waterfronts Working Act of 2007 (H.R. 3223), has been incorporated into the proposed reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, currently pending in Congress.
The bill allows the Secretary of Commerce to establish a working waterfront grant program through a competitive funding process to any coastal state for a plan to preserve and expand access to coastal waters.
The bill acknowledges that if working waterfronts are eliminated, “the economy, culture, and the heart of coastal communities will be fundamentally altered.”
On the Michigan Waterfront
While a focused statewide discussion on key waterfront areas and access points to the Great Lakes has yet to occur in Michigan, says Breederland, many local efforts in waterfront communities have been bubbling up to protect these important coastal areas.
Two of these communities include Leland and Grand Haven—places where “traditional community culture and character could be lost if working waterfronts disappear.”
In Leland, a local community-led effort formed a non-profit organization and purchased the historic working waterfront known as Fishtown. The group purchased the historic Fishtown docks, shanties, commercial-fishing boats and licenses in the fishing and tourist village of Leland in 2007.
This effort protects the active commercial fishing community, guarantees long term public access to waterfront shops and shore-based angling, and ensures this authentic place remains an important part of Michigan’s coastal legacy.
In Grand Haven, city leaders secured TiFA financing in the early 1980s to create a working waterfront that includes centralized charterboat dockage. Known as Chinook Pier, it has become a regional landmark that provides valued public access to Lake Michigan.
These are just two local efforts, notes Breederland, who emphasizes that the definition of working waterfronts is quite broad at times, and many other Michigan communities can also be identified as participating in elements of working waterfront protections.
The working waterfront concept will be explored in depth at a Michigan Sea Grant sponsored conference on the topic planned for March 2009 in Lansing. Issues in Michigan will need to be identified and options considered, says Breederland, who points out that public access areas in the State are “certainly not increasing” along Michigan’s nearly 4,000 miles of Great Lakes coastline.
“We’re just beginning to define working waterfronts as a State, and that’s the first step toward protection,” says Breederland. “Working waterfronts are vital to Michigan’s economic future, especially as a new ‘knowledge economy’ emerges and a growing number of people desire to live and work near our Freshwater Coast.”
Researchers Work to Rein in the Runoff
By Lynn Vaccaro
Looking at a computer model of west Michigan’s Spring Lake watershed, GIS specialist Kurt Thompson can identify the most likely sources of polluted runoff.
The EPA’s PLOAD model shows which watershed sub-basins may be contributing the highest levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended solids to local waterways. This watershed-based model correlates specific pollutants with different land uses, such as urban or agricultural, and other land cover data.
“It gives us a pretty good idea of where these pollutants are coming from and leads us toward the locations where we can do the most good,” Thompson explains, adding that the model can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of stormwater management strategies in terms of reduction in runoff.
Thompson, an ecosystem modeler at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), is part of a multidisciplinary team funded by Michigan Sea Grant to investigate cost effective strategies for reducing storm water runoff in the Spring Lake watershed. The two-year integrated assessment, led by Alan Steinman, Director of the Annis Water Resources Institute at GVSU, also includes an economist, a communication specialist, a policy expert, and several engineers.
Together, the team is approaching the challenge of reducing runoff from different angles. See: EPA resource
Best Management Practices
In natural landscapes, rainwater is absorbed by plants or infiltrates into the soil where it replenishes groundwater reserves and gradually feeds streams. In contrast, rainwater that lands on hard, impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, roofs and roads, washes quickly into storm drains and streams, carrying road salt, fertilizers, sediments, oil, and other pollutants. The fast-moving stormwater can erode stream banks, threaten aquatic life, and promote algae blooms.
Fortunately, a variety of effective strategies, or best management practices (BMPs), are being used in urban areas to filter and reduce storm water runoff.
Project manager Elaine Sterrett Isely is taking a closer look at local ordinances governing storm water management. She’s working with Kelly Karll and Lisa Lenfestey of Environmental Consultants & Technology to identify model stormwater ordinance provisions that maximize natural absorption of rainwater in residential and commercial areas.
Creating rain gardens is one practice gaining attention. Rain gardens are shallow, vegetated depressions that allow runoff from rooftops and parking lots to soak into the soil. The use of rain barrels to capture runoff for later use is another practical, low cost option for homeowners.
Other alternatives for larger areas include constructed wetlands and vegetated buffer zones. To reduce stormwater runoff at new construction sites, developers should consider incorporating vegetated or “green” roofs and specially designed porous pavement into their site plans.
Another aspect of the integrated assessment involves a cost-benefit analysis conducted by economist Paul Isely of GVSU’s Seidman College of Business. Isely is analyzing different stormwater management strategies based on the costs associated with permitting, installation, and operation and maintenance; the benefits associated with the expected reduction in pollution; and the estimated improvements in property values.
Wanted: Stakeholder Input
Stakeholders have been involved in this integrated assessment every step of the way. The Spring Lake Township supervisor and the manager of the Village of Spring Lake have guided the project from its inception, hoping the results will shape local ordinances, new construction, and public works projects.
Representative from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and local non-profits, business members, school-teachers and other municipalities form the stakeholder steering committee, which meets quarterly to give input into the project.
Residents and business owners are encouraged to offer suggestions by attending the next stakeholder steering committee meeting at the Spring Lake Library on January 27, 2009, from 7–8:30 p.m., and by completing the project Water Quality Survey, which can be found online. See: Survey
Other joint meetings and opportunities to weigh in on the runoff issue will be announced in the coming year.
When this integrated assessment wraps up in late 2009, the knowledge, partnerships, and decision-making tools generated should help Spring Lake effectively Rein in the Runoff!
To learn more about stormwater runoff, public meetings, the Water Quality Survey, or possible solutions, please see: Website
Great Lakes Bowl dives below the surface
Ocean Sciences Bowl is more than a competition
By Stephanie Ariganello, Associate Editor
While the lakes and oceans have many admirers, most of us simply appreciate the beauty, the recreational opportunities and lifestyle water affords us.
For the high schoolers competing in the Great Lakes Bowl – a regional preliminary that’s part of the annual National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) – diving below the surface into the science, technology, history and economics of water is their specialty.
It’s that time of year again when regional high schools have formed teams and are brushing up on their tactical knowledge of the oceans and Great Lakes in order to compete against their peers.
Each February regional competitions are held at 25 locations across the country. The 2009 Great Lakes regional competition has been slated for Feb. 7 at the University of Michigan and the deadline to enroll a team is Dec. 26. The national competition will be held this year in April in Washington D.C. with the top 25 groups to emerge from the regionals.
Teams of four or five students are tested on their knowledge of scientific and technical disciplines through quick-answer buzzer questions and more complex team challenge questions.
More than it appears
Though NOSB is centered around the annual quiz bowl competition, the organization goes beyond that peg, offering students a chance to apply what they’ve learned and actively participate in science while also encouraging teachers to embrace ocean sciences into their everyday curriculum.
“The bowl used to be more career-focused,” said Laura Welsh Florence, regional coordinator for the Great Lakes Bowl. “The traditional focus was developing a program that would interest kids in careers that involved the oceans, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, research and that type of thing.”
Today, said Florence, the program has evolved to meet the needs of science educators as well as agencies like NOAA.
“Now the focus is more on education, literacy and appreciating the oceans, Great Lakes and other related natural resources,” she said. “NOSB offers teacher development – professional development that helps get educators more engaged and in turn, engages students more.”
The common thread
One of the big pushes is to get educators to use the lakes, oceans and rivers as a link between subjects, some that wouldn’t immediately come to mind like history or the humanities.
“The common thread is water – in our ecosystems and in the education that NOSB is promoting,” said Florence. “We have teachers who become involved through the competition who say ‘wow, I can teach physics, biology or history using the oceans and lakes as the connector.’ In the end, it doesn’t require a change in curriculum or even that much of an adjustment. It’s just a different way of presenting educational material – a way that can really connect with students because waterways are involved in our everyday lives.”
Deano Smith, a science teacher at Ann Arbor’s Greenhills School and coach of the school’s Science Bowl team said he often ties the lakes or oceans into his lessons.
“In fact, in my earth science class, the very first day I tell them the earth was misnamed,” said Smith. “With over 70 percent of the earth’s surface made up of water, it shouldn’t be called earth, it should be called water.”
Smith said he heard about NOSB back when he lived and worked in Maryland and thought it would be great to get kids interested in Michigan, a place removed from the ocean coast, but vital to the overall health of water systems.
“Water is the life-giving molecule,” he said. “It’s a great teaching tool that connects with students’ real world experiences. It gets them thinking about things and asking questions they probably wouldn’t otherwise think about. Our planet is fragile and we all play a part in that. It makes logical sense to talk about these systems all together.”
He said he’s used the educational resources available through NOSB to help teach his students and in preparing his team for the upcoming competition – though that’s something they’ve taken the initiative on.
“These kids are incredible,” he said. “There’s something about the ocean and the lakes – and the competition aspect too – that gets them hooked.”
The Greenhills team was having a difficult time figuring out how to meet and practice after school because of other groups and sports, so they decided to meet at 7 a.m. several times a week before classes started.
“That means they’re here before the sun comes up,” Smith said. “And they were the ones who decided that. That’s the kind of pull this has.”
The oceans and an annual high school quiz bowl competition may seem like a small niche at first, but Florence said the lessons NOSB teachers are relevant to everyone – teacher, student or otherwise, when looking at the big picture.
“It goes back to the idea of everyone being connected – whether they’re in the Midwest or in one of the coastal areas,” she said. “No matter where you live, you are affected by the oceans and the other way around. What we do has an impact. That’s a huge lesson to teach and this is one way to teach it.”
www.nosb.org – the organization’s web site with an overview of the competition, educational offerings and practice questions.
Opening Doors to More
Being quick with the trigger finger doesn’t just open the door to NOSB fame and glory – participants in the Ocean Bowl competitions are then eligible to apply for several exclusive internships offered through NOSB and various partners.
AnneMarie Opipari, now a junior at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, spent a month this past summer at Redwood National Park in California, learning ocean sciences first hand through one of those internships.
AnneMarie was one of six high school students from across the country to be awarded a spot in the Coast and Ocean Science Training (COAST) Internship Program – a partnership between NOSB and The Student Conservation Association (SCA).
“It opened my eyes to the world of science and all that it has to offer,” said AnneMarie. “By working in the field and living nature – we camped for the entire duration of the internship – I was immersed completely in the way of the earth. I gained a perspective on both the earth and myself that, without this internship, I would not have had.”
COAST describes the internship program as “an opportunity for individual challenge, meeting new friends and trying new activities while getting hands-on experience…”
During the internship AnneMarie participated in several research projects, including measuring intertidal zone turbidity, salinity, and water temperature, and taking water and sand samples along the 35-mile-long coastline of Redwood National and State Parks.
The data she helped collect will establish a baseline of information regarding the coast. According to AnneMarie, very little is known about the coast, and by measuring the basic parameters of the intertidal zones, the Redwood authorities will gain a better understanding of the park and will be able to reference the data when problems or situations arise. The park biologist will be able to chart the change of the coast from season to season. This was the third year data was collected for the project.
Some of the science and methods AnneMarie said she was already familiar with through her science classes at Greenhills and studying for the regional Great Lakes Bowl last year.
It was awesome to go there and put what I’d learned into practice,” she said. “You don’t always get opportunities to do that.”
Educational trips are also part of the opportunities fostered through NOSB participation. Dexter High School’s 2008 Ocean Bowl Team competed against 24 regional winners and landed in fourth place at a national competition in Alaska. In addition to traveling across the continent for the competition in April, the fourth place win garnered them a trip around Michigan. Each of the teams to place in the top four spots at the national competition earns a trip focused on ocean and water sciences.
Over the summer, students Will Grundler, Jim Priestley, Christian Henes, Casey Hall, Justin Wike, and the team’s coach Cheryl Wells went snorkeling near a shipwreck in Thunder Bay, visited the National Weather Service office in Gaylord, kayaked down the Au Sable River and ended up in Muskegon working on a research vessel in Lake Michigan.
- Dexter’s trip around Michigan
- AnneMarie’s experience and the COAST project
- Internships offered through NOSB
Coaching and competing aren’t the only ways to get involved in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl competition. More than 3,000 questions are used in the final contest and each of those has to come from somewhere – making question writers critical to the process.
If you’ve got a great ocean- or waterway-related question, now’s the time to send it out into the world.
Questions used in the competition are drawn from the scientific and technical disciplines used in studying the oceans. Categories include: Physical Oceanography, Chemistry, Biology, Geology, Geography, Marine Policy, Technology and the Social Sciences.
If you are interested in question writing for the NOSB, send three sample buzzer questions or one sample team challenge question to Allison Byrd at firstname.lastname@example.org by May 29.
To read through the requirements or to look at example questions, see: NOSB website.
NOSB will select writers after receiving all responses and will notify applicants during the first week of June. If chosen to be a question writer, a stipend will be provided only for accepted questions.
Giants of the Inland Sea Exposed
Michigan Sea Grant display at Lake Erie Metropark reveals secrets of the lake sturgeon
By Stephanie Ariganello, associate editor
“What I love most about sturgeon,” said naturalist Gerry Wykes, “is that they are naturally fascinating. “You don’t have to get people interested – they see them and they’re hooked.”
Pun definitely intended.
Wykes, curator and supervising interpreter of the Lake Erie Marshlands Museum and Nature Center at the Lake Erie Metropark, recently welcomed a new display focused on lake sturgeon. The display was created through Michigan Sea Grant and features information panels, a life-size cutout of an average lake sturgeon, maps that show habitat restoration and a timeline of the sturgeon’s sometimes-contentious relationship with man, particularly in Southeast Michigan.
The display is set up in the main area of the nature center, which means the annual 130,000-150,000 visitors are learning something about the Great Lakes native species, whether they intended to or not.
“It definitely gets some attention,” said Wykes. “With the big sturgeon mount on the wall and the cutouts that show the largest Lake Erie sturgeon, it’s hard to miss.”
The display, adjacent to the nature center’s aquariums, may someday be supplemented with live sturgeon. Currently the aquariums house other native varieties, showing the differences between the standard fish like walleye and sturgeon.
The sturgeon exhibit is part of Michigan Sea Grant’s educational outreach program, aimed at engaging and teaching not only students, but all those interested in Great Lakes resources.
“The sturgeon is a great way to reach people,” said Wykes. “Even the most jaded child – you know if it doesn’t beep, blip or buzz they’re not interested – is susceptible to the charms of the sturgeon.”
A good way to grab students’ attention, he said, is to play up the monster aspect.
Wykes launched into the start of his own presentation: “Right now, lurking below the surface of the lake is a hulking beast, a monster that weighs as much as any one of us and is older than anyone here. It’s covered in armor and absolutely the slimiest thing you could ever feel.”
In addition to revealing the secrets of the primitive fish, the panels trace the legacy of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes and the Detroit River area, from nuisance fish to threatened fish.
Habitat restoration – including building up rocky reefs in historical spawning areas – is also featured.
To learn more about the fantastic lives of lake sturgeon, the habitat restoration areas or where you can get informational materials, visit: Sturgeon website
Here’s a riddle for you: What’s six feet long, more than 100 years old and more slippery than wet soap? If you guessed Lake sturgeon, give yourself a pat on the back.
- Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), a large primitive fish with armor-like plates instead of scales, were once abundant in the Detroit River and beyond. Now, less than one percent of the original population of Lake sturgeon exists in the Great Lakes due to habitat loss, over-harvesting and pollution.
- Most lake sturgeon caught today weigh between 30-100 lbs. and are about 3-6 feet long.
- Females live 80-150 years and males live an average of 55 years.
- Females take 20-25 years to reach reproductive maturity and then spawn once every four years. Males take 15 years to reach reproductive maturity.
- Sturgeon were over-harvested for their meat, their eggs – commonly called caviar, and their swim bladders, which were used in the manufacturing of beer and wine.
- Today, Michigan prohibits commercial fishing for Lake sturgeon and closely regulates sport fishing.
Michigan Sea Grant welcomes new staffers
Lynn Vaccaro, Stephanie Ariganello and Nikki Koehler recently joined the Michigan Sea Grant team. Here’s a little bit about them and what they’ll be doing for MSG.
Lynn Vaccaro – Research program support and project coordinator
Lynn’s professional interests include wetland ecology, science education, and the interface between the scientific community and the public.
After college, Lynn worked as an education specialist for the Monterey Bay Aquarium until returning to graduate school. At Cornell, she studied natural resources with an emphasis on Great Lakes wetlands, while earning a M.S. and a teaching certificate.
As part of her M.S. research she surveyed the vegetation within 35 wetlands along Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, with the goal of better understanding how wetland plant communities are influenced by watershed development. Lynn’s MS work was part of the Great Lakes Environmental Indicators (GLEI) project managed out of University of Minnesota – Duluth.
Lynn taught biology and chemistry for two years at a small high school in New York before she had the opportunity to move to Ann Arbor, Mich. She is excited to use her research, writing and teaching experience to support the mission of Michigan Sea Grant!
Contact: email@example.com or (734) 763-1530.
Stephanie Ariganello – Editor associate
Stephanie’s position will include writing and editing for key program publications, including Upwellings and the Michigan Sea Grant website, as well as publications and program promotion.
Stephanie has been working in journalism as a reporter/writer for eight years. In that time, she has covered environmental topics from greenways to superfund sites (most notably the TCAAP remediation in Minnesota).
She is a graduate of the 2007 Knight Center Great Lakes Environmental Journalism Training Institute – where she came to terms with the realization that she is, in fact, a science dork. Before coming to Michigan Sea Grant, she was a general assignment reporter with the Monroe Evening News and did stints at the Ann Arbor News, Lillie Suburban Newspapers in Minneapolis/St. Paul and the Mining Journal in Marquette, Mich.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or (734) 615-0400
Nikki Koehler – Education specialist
Nikki has an interest in investigating and protecting coastal aquatic habitat and fisheries through research and education, and her position with Michigan Sea Grant falls directly in line with that.
Nikki completed a master’s degree in Marine Biology at the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Univ. of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and she has a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Michigan State University.
Her primary responsibilities will be teaching and developing educational materials that take advantage of the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) data.
Teaching with GLOS materials will be geared primarily for middle school students and will be designed to meet Michigan grade level content expectations and national teaching standards. She will also be assisting in the set up of workshops and activities that aim to promote Great Lakes and ocean sciences to teachers.
Contact: email@example.com or (586) 469-7431, (734)764-1118.