Monday, January 25, 2016

Upcoming Conferences: Invasive Species

Image result for asian carp
Asian Carp - Chris Bentley

(1) International Association for Great Lakes Research:

“Fellow researchers from around the world will gather at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, for IAGLR's 59th annual Conference on Great Lakes Research...focusing on our theme Great Lakes Solutions: Integrating Across Disciplines & Scales. Mark your calendars for June 6-10, 2016.”

Deadline for abstracts: 1-29-16            

Image result for zebra mussels
Zebra Mussels - 100th Meridian Initiative
(2) Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference

The 2016 Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference covers all invasive aquatic and terrestrial plants, animals, insects and pathogens. Its purpose is to strengthen management of invasive species, especially prevention, control, and containment.”

October 17-19, 2016 at La Crosse Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.     

Deadline for abstracts: 4-4-16

Image result for asian carp map
Bighead Carp - USGS
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More info:

Invasive Mussel Collaborative
2805 S. Industrial Hwy Suite #100
Ann Arbor, Mi 48104

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Garble Genes to Destroy Invasive Species?

Scientists are exploring the possibility that gene drives can be used to annihilate invasive species.

How far would you be willing to go to eradicate invasive species like sea lamprey, Asian carp or alien mussels?

Image result for sea lamprey + great lakes
Sea Lampreys on Lake Trout - Wikipedia

Entering the Great Lakes through canals built in the 19th century, the sea lamprey had become abundant in the upper lakes by the 1930s and ‘40s. Lampreys are blood suckers, attaching themselves to native fish species, draining and killing them. In Lake Superior, lake trout and whitefish had been abundant and supported an important commercial fishery, but were nearly wiped out by sea lamprey. Efforts to control sea lamprey have had limited success, but are expensive to maintain.

Various invasive species of Asian carp have made their way up the Mississippi River system to within a few miles of the Great Lakes. Some species are voracious filter feeders, consuming great quantities of the plankton on which many native species in the food web depend.

“In some areas of the Mississippi River basin where these fish have steadily taken over, they now comprise up to 97% of fish biomass. Today, commercial fishers in the Illinois River regularly catch more than 25,000 pounds of Asian carp each day, an alarmingly large amount of fish.”

Zebra and the more dominant quagga mussels arrived in the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway in ballast water discharged by ocean-going ships. They have spread throughout most of the Mississippi watershed and much of western North America. Their reproduction rate is prolific, creating dense populations. The alien mussels filter plankton and refuse at the bottom of the water column, altering lake ecology, out-competing and suffocating native clams and mussels, which are disappearing rapidly. Zebras are thought to be vectors for botulism, which has been killing thousands upon thousands of birds that feed on the mussels.

A gene drive is the cellular apparatus that assures inheritance of a genetic trait. Scientists are exploring the possibility that gene drives can be used to annihilate invasive species. But the risks of such a capability are sobering. Species could be extinguished worldwide. The potential of such technology in warfare is even scarier.

The theory has roots in the work of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) and Austin Burt (2003, ).

In 2014, Harvard biologist Kevin Esvelt read about the remarkable new technique to alter genes. Esvelt and a group of other biologists explored the theory of gene drive and described a technique to build drives.

The research of Valentino Gantz and Ethan Bier that had drawn Esvelt’s attention was published in 2015.

Hard to say where this science is going, but it’s not going away.

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Meeting Notice

Meeting announcement by Erika Jensen

The 59th Annual Conference on Great Lakes Research will be held June 6 - 10, 2016  at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario.  Forty six sessions have been proposed to encompass the theme Great Lakes Solutions: Integrating Across Disciplines & Scales.

All abstracts must be submitted online by January 29, 2016.   The deadline will not be extended.

Contact conference program chair Paul Sibley, University of Guelph, (519) 824-4120 ext. 52707 or at

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Army Corps' Move May Thwart Ohio EPA, Federal Judge

Corps' political end run intended to dodge Ohio EPA and federal judge on dredging?

In the Cleveland Plain Dealer on January 7, 2016, James F. McCarty wrote (excerpts):

The dispute between the Port of Cleveland and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers heated up again this week after Army brass obtained a cut of  more than $3 million in funds budgeted for dredging the Cuyahoga River shipping channel.

Port of Cleveland President & CEO Wil Friedman wrote to Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman on Tuesday to express his dismay at the "troubling actions" of the Army Corps and to seek their assistance in recouping the money.

At the root of the dispute are the Army Corps' ongoing efforts to dump dredged sediment from the river channel directly into the open Lake Erie, rather than to continue its longstanding practice of storing the sediment in lakefront containment dikes. Port officials and the Ohio EPA contend the sediment is potentially toxic and unsuitable for open-lake disposal...

In the original federal budget, $9.54 million was earmarked for dredging Cleveland Harbor, Friedman said. But unknown to port officials or the Ohio congressional delegation, Army Corps brass advised a congressional Appropriations Committee to cut the budgeted money for dredging the harbor to $5.94 million -- a reduction of $3.6 million, he said.

(See Part 3: Murky Waters, this blog, 11-17-15.) 

UPDATE   Posted by Sam Allard on Scene & Heard, Jan 25, 2016:

Both Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman are now in "open war" with the USACE, the [Cleveland Plain Dealer or PD] said, and are demanding the agency use its own flexible account to cover costs for safe disposal of the sludge.  

Money is required, they say, because Congress allocated a lot less money to the USACE this year at the agency's request:  

The only reason Congress in December didn't allocate more money for the harbor's dredging, the senators said, is because the Corps quietly went to congressional appropriators and slyly asked for a lower amount — at least $2 million less than was needed and $3.6 million less than even the White House had sought for Cleveland Harbor dredging. Ohio lawmakers didn't notice the change until after the bill, a 2,200-page spending measure for 2016 that Congress rushed through at year's end, had passed.

By seeking and getting less money, Portman and Brown contend, the Corps could cry poor when time comes this year to do the work.  

In an editorial published Sunday, the PD laid into the Engineers for their sleazy, deceptive maneuvers, saying that with a reduced budget, they can now "shake down" the state…

Saturday, January 9, 2016

PCBs: The Nature of the Beast

Image result for skull and crossbones image(first in a series)

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are an assortment of man-made chemical compounds that were commonly used as coolants and electric insulators. Oils containing PCBs were carelessly discarded for decades. They are found all over the place in southeast Michigan, contaminating many of our waters. Even low levels of PCBs can have acute, chronic health consequences, including cancer. Consider these particulars from Wikipedia:

Because of PCBs' environmental toxicity and classification as a persistent organic pollutant, PCB production was banned by the United States Congress in 1979 …

The maximum allowable contaminant level in drinking water in the United States is set at zero, but because of water treatment technologies, a level of 0.5 parts per billion is the de facto level.

[PCBs] … are chemically fairly inert, being extremely resistant to oxidation, reduction, addition, elimination, and electrophilic substitution.

The resistance of PCBs to oxidation and reduction in the natural environment makes them very stable compounds, not decomposing readily. They have a long half life (8 to 15 years) and are insoluble in water, which contributes to their stability.[11] Their destruction by chemical, thermal, and biochemical processes is extremely difficult, and presents the risk of generating extremely toxic dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans through partial oxidation. Intentional degradation as a treatment of unwanted PCBs generally requires high heat or catalysis

Like many lipiphilic toxins, PCBs biomagnify up the food chain. For instance, ducks can accumulate PCBs from eating fish and other aquatic life from contaminated rivers, and these can cause harm to human health or even death when eaten.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) have endeavored to remedy PCB contamination in Michigan for about 40 years with varying levels of success. This series will examine one such effort that has been botched badly.

Monday, January 4, 2016

GLWA Takes the Reins

As of the first of the year, the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) now manages water and sewer service for most of metropolitan Detroit. It succeeds the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD), which becomes a wholesale service purchaser from GLWA and retail distributor exclusively to the city itself, designated DWSD-R (R for Retail).