One of the biggest players actively involved in keeping Lake Erie healthy can be found on a 6.5 acre island easily accessible from downtown Put-In-Bay.
Gibraltar Island used to be a lookout point for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the fight against the British during the War of 1812. Now, it’s a lookout for keeping the world’s most recreationally-used fresh-water lake environmentally healthy and its billion-dollar tourism industry thriving.
The Ohio State University’s F.T. Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island is 120 years old and has been Ohio’s Lake Erie laboratory since 1895. It is the oldest freshwater biological field station in the country and part of Ohio Sea Grant.
If you have ever been curious about the Lake Erie science that takes place at Stone Lab, or want to take a peek inside the Civil War-era Cooke Castle, or peer down from Perry’s Lookout, the opportunity presents itself at the 17th Annual Friends of Stone Lab open house from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 12.
For two days last week, 20 journalists from around the country got that chance, and they were updated about ongoing Lake Erie research during the Sixth Annual Lake Erie Workshop for Science and Outdoor Writers and Reporters at Stone Lab, courtesy of the Joyce Foundation, the OSU Sea Grant Program, and the Friends of Stone Lab.
|Stone Lab and interim director, Dr. Christopher
Winslow. (Press photo by J. Patrick Eaken)
They were told about how Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab are bringing together farmers, fertilizer companies, scientists, and management agencies to find ways to prevent harmful algal blooms through new management practices and public outreach, and just in time.
Since Toledo’s water crisis in August 2014, thanks in large part to legislation sponsored by State Sen. Randy Gardner, millions of dollars are being pumped into research and to provide financial incentives to farmers to reduce phosphorous loading into Lake Erie. In addition, new laws regulating manure spreading and dredging of lake shipping channels went into effect.
This year, total and dissolved phosphorous loading into Lake Erie is at an all-time high, which scientists attribute to record-setting rainfall in June. However, the amount of toxin produced by microcystis — the cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that feed off phosphorous and nitrogen, is not as high, which puzzles scientists.
Scientists say that every year, it’s a different story. The record-breaking bloom of 2011 was followed by a small bloom in 2012, which indicates the lake can recover again, and quickly. However, the small bloom of 2012 was followed by the second largest bloom ever, which indicates a bloom can happen in any year.
More than harmful algae research
The first thing you realize when you reach Gibraltar Island and Stone Lab is that you are on what may be considered an epicenter for Lake Erie research. However, OSU is only one player.
Instead, it’s a multitude of scientists from the University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, Heidelberg University, and other Great Lakes and national institutions. They take pride in being part of a cooperative effort that works along parallel lines and shares information.
While the majority of current Lake Erie research is related to detecting and mapping harmful algal blooms, there is so much more going on at Stone Lab and its affiliates — such as tracking walleye movements with telemetry, eliminating the dead zone in the Central Basin, fighting invasive species, developing renewable energy, fighting water pollution, and improving water treatment technology. And, that’s a small sampling of research projects.
For example, Heidelberg University has been monitoring rivers in the Western Lake Erie watershed and providing Stone Lab with data since 1974.
If you want to know how scientists are able to fingerprint where the sources of phosphorous are that feed harmful algae blooms in Lake Erie, Heidelberg’s Dr. Laura Johnson can present evidence of phosphorous discharge and loading from the Maumee River. Then, she can explain why scientists are confident it can be attributed to the Western Basin’s agriculture industry.
“This is the go-to research,” said Dr. Christopher J. Winslow, interim director for Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab. “We are thankful to Heidelberg every day during the summer, recognizing that we can’t make a lot of the comparisons and predictions if it wasn’t for that data set.
“Not only has it been a program that has been running for a long period of time, the staff that works that facility have been very, very cooperative — just great scientists to work with and it’s just fantastic.”
Winslow has been with Ohio Sea Grant in some capacity since 2004 when he was conducting research, teaching courses, and supervising undergraduate research projects. After finishing his doctoral studies and a two-year professorship in Pennsylvania, he returned to Stone Lab to become assistant director under longtime director and nationally recognized Lake Erie scientist Dr. Jeff Reutter.
After Dr. Reutter retired on March 31, Winslow took over as interim director on April 1 while a national search continues for a permanent director.
Reutter says he will continue with the program in a part-time capacity to aid in the transition and to continue to lead state, regional, and national efforts on HABs and other issues impacting Lake Erie’s aquatic resources. Even though retired, on Wednesday he left the workshop and went to Windsor, Ontario for an international Great Lakes consortium.
For Dr. Winslow, he’s glad to be back on Gibraltar Island.
“This is really where my heart is — with Lake Erie,” Winslow said.
(This is the first of a series of articles about ongoing Lake Erie research. Upcoming articles will be based on presentations given at the Lake Erie Writers Workshop last week.)
The FOSL Open House on Sept. 12 includes tours of Gibraltar Island, Cooke Castle, and Stone Lab plus there will be lectures and laboratory sessions. Historic photos, summer class information, and publications will be available.
Free transportation is provided to Gibraltar Island from OSU’s Aquatic Visitors Center on South Bass Island or water taxi services can be purchased for transportation from Put-In-Bay to Gibraltar Island. Tours of the historic South Bass Island Lighthouse will also be available, but transportation to South Bass Island is not provided by Stone Lab. For information, contact Stone Lab at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-285-1800.
Stone Lab and Ohio Sea Grant interim director, Dr. Christopher J. Winslow, demonstrates to journalists at last week’s writer’s workshop how water is collected by research officials on Lake Erie so it can be later tested for its chemical and algal content. (Press photo by J. Patrick Eaken)