MIKE BRAUN Invasive species threaten lakes

PORT CLINTON -- The viability of the Great Lakes for recreational and economic purposes could be hampered severely in coming years due to a growing problem with invasive species.
Zebra and quagga mussels, round goby, sea lamprey, purple loosestrife, Eurasian ruffe, fishhook water flea and the bighead carp are just a few of the non-native species of animals, plants and microorganisms that have been introduced into Great Lakes waters over the past decade or so.
They have ALL been harmful to the Great Lakes environment.
Getting worse
Recently, a combined group of agencies and organizations that have an interest in seeing the Great Lakes stay healthy invited outdoor writers, reporters and others to Port Clinton to hear about invasive species and related problems.
The news was not good.
Officials from Ducks Unlimited, the League of Ohio Sportsmen, National Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy, Ohio Environmental Council, Lake Carriers Association, and Lake Erie Coastal Ohio reported that the invasive species problem was not going away and, in fact, was getting worse.
One of the largest effects of invasive species, especially on a body of water like Lake Erie, was to damage the sportfish population.
"Lake Erie produces more fish for human consumption than all the other lakes combined," said Dr. Jeff Reutter, director of the Ohio State University's Stone Laboratory, based on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie.
Reutter indicated a link between the non-native zebra mussel and increased algae blooms in the lake. The algae is toxic to humans.
Walleye decline
Additionally, Marc Gaden, with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, explained how invasive species are likely the cause in the decline of Lake Erie's famed walleye fishery.
Gaden said that thousands of fish, waterfowl and other birds have died of botulism in this decade. The problem comes, he said, when the fish and birds eat the round goby and quagga mussels -- both invasive species, which are full of toxic bacteria from the bottom of the lakes. The toxic bacteria --in the form of botulism -- is passed up the food chain.
And it's not just animal species that are affected. The purple loosestrife, a pretty, perennial purple flowering plant, is running rampant across North America wetlands, shorelines and other areas.
This fast-moving plant grows in thick stands, edging out native species and limiting nesting spaces for birds, turtles, frogs and other wildlife.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, the damage caused by non-native exotic invaders such as these to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, public and private properties, and human health is estimated at more than $137 billion annually.
Taking action
To try to help this situation, funding, legislation and vigilance is needed on the local, state, federal and international level.
A series of meetings are being planned (see accompanying box) in Ohio this month and in September to pass the word on proposed agreements to manage and protect the waters of the Great Lakes Basin.
What happens to the Great Lakes will affect nearly every resident of Ohio, even those who live far from the resource.
It would be in your best interest to attend one of these meetings and find out how you can help.

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