Charter captains on Lake Erie have been helping with the testing for toxic algae blooms on the lake by gathering water samples for Ohio environmental researchers.
Harmful blooms containing toxins that can make people sick have plagued Lake Erie in recent years, although blooms last year were milder.
Paul Pacholski, vice president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, suggested early in 2012 that he and other charter captains could pull water samples while fishing, since they spend much of their summer on the lake.
Pacholski made the suggestion after learning that little money was available for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to take the needed samples, and captains began collecting samples four months later, the Port Clinton News Herald reported.
Pacholski says the charter captains have a vested interest in the testing.
“We depend on the tourists,” he said. “We depend on a healthy lake.”
The captains took 45 water samples from last July through October, and the state agency and the captains want to continue working together to test the lake again this year, said Amy Jo Klei, the Ohio EPA’s Lake Erie coordinator.
Samples were tested for various things including nitrates and phosphorus, which fuel the blooms, and the toxins called microcystins that are found in algae.
“Our total phosphorous numbers were very low compared to recent years,” Klei said of the 2012 testing. “I think we were getting some good data.”
Rain can wash phosphorous from farm fertilizer and other sources into the lake’s tributaries, fueling the blooms that often show up in summer, and dry weather helped reduce the size of last year’s blooms.
It’s too early to predict how bad the algae might be this year, Klei said.
The information supplied by the charter captains adds to monitoring that OEPA and other agencies are doing and helps give a better picture of the condition of the lake, Klei said.
“What we tried to do was find captains whose home bases were spread across the Western Basin,” she said. “We allowed the captains to determine anywhere along the route to collect the sample.”
The captains also noted wind and weather conditions and whether an algae bloom was visible, among other factors.
So far, from visual observation, “the lake looks pretty good,” said Dan Glomski, environmental supervisor in the EPA’s district office in Bowling Green.