worst in state-of-lakes update John C. Kuehner Plain Dealer
Lake Erie's health
remains mixed. While it has shown improvement, there are
signs of deterioration.
a Lake Erie specialist with the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, presented the state-of-the-lake update at a Great
Lakes environmental conference in Cleveland yesterday.
Lake Erie had
the worst health grade of all the Great Lakes. It got
the same grade last year.
"A lot of good
things have been done, but we're not sure why we're seeing
the trends we're seeing," O'Riordan said afterward. "The
perplexing part is that it's not a failure of what we
did in the past, but an indication of how complex the
What has researchers
concerned is the recent discovery of an oxygen-poor "dead
zone" in Lake Erie, which prompted a two-year EPA-funded
study that started this year.
include habitat loss and the unprecedented deaths of thousands
of fish-eating birds from avian botulism, O'Riordan said.
Those are setbacks,
agreed Jeffrey Busch, who heads the Ohio Lake Erie Commission.
But since the 1960s, Lake Erie has undergone dramatic
these conferences we dwell on the new problem. Some of
these things we could not have even detected years ago,"
Busch said. "We've got these new problems, and they warrant
investigation and are serious. But in the big picture,
we have made improvements and we plan improvements in
Lake Erie is
the shallowest and most biologically productive Great
Lake. So it's an indicator lake: Problems show up here
before other Great Lakes, O'Riordan said.
The lake also
has 34 nonnative fish species. These invaders compete
with native fish for food, and are altering the lake's
food chain and natural habitat at the expense of the native
fish, O'Riordan said.
such as the round goby also could carry diseases, such
as avian botulism. O'Riordan said that one study showed
that birds in Lake Erie that died of botulism had a high
number of round gobies in their stomachs compared with
To improve Lake
Erie's health, O'Riordan suggested these steps: Minimize
and control nonnative species; protect and restore habitats;
manage nutrients; and do more research.
"Time is of the
essence to prevent additional biological degradation,"
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