By JIMMY McCARTHY
The Great Lakes Experience Festival at Memorial Park in Dunkirk began Saturday, showing visitors the grandeur of the great lakes region and informing them on potential dangers.
Originally held in Buffalo, Saturday was the first time the festival was held in Dunkirk. Since 2001, the number of participants involved with the festival has grown enormously. It is a way to educate the community about the local resources that are important to the region and to celebrate ecological advancements.
The festival, made possible due to support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, displayed tents with diagrams of the region, replicas of fish and animals in the area and live animals. Such tents were represented by Evangola State Park, BOCES LoGuidice Center, Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club Inc. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service amongst others.
A lot of the information displayed was centered on preserving and protecting the environment, which included taking action to keep away invasive species (both animal and plant).
Other flyers and displays informed the public on other potential hazards. Keeping chemicals and medicine out of the waters was one way to further preserve and protect the Great Lakes.
Interactive activities such as face painting, fishing games, trivia and making paper butterflies also took place for the children to enjoy. Live animals including fish, owls, falcons and hawks were on display for the public to observe.
As the public saw at the festival, invasive species have recently threatened the area, including the water chestnut, the spiny water flea and round goby, to name a few. Invasive species encroach on ecosystems that are beyond their normal range. They tend to harm ecosystems, disrupting many activities that include recreation and agriculture.
One invasive species that Dale Ollila, one of the workers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tent, spoke about was the sea lamprey. According to Ollila, sea lampreys came from the Atlantic Ocean and made its way to Lake Ontario. What is so dangerous about them is the fact that the lamprey prey on fish within the lake, thus resulting in the fish’s death, or receiving scars on their bodies. To reduce their presence in the area, according to Ollila, a pesticide known as TFM is used.
“It’s an ongoing process,” said Ollila. “They belong in the ocean.”
In fending off a massive inflow of invasive species, the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office coordinates and plans programs to detect and monitor the potential dangers. The conservation office opened in 1991 due in part to a restoration act in 1990. Since then, they have supported restoration, protection and maintenance of the lower Great Lakes.
“We are in charge of managing and surveying invasive species,” said a member of the organization. “We do early detection and monitoring of the western basin of Lake Erie as well as Lake Ontario. We do electro fishing, crawling and benthic sledding to target groups and see what we can find. There has been a couple times in which we found something that was not suppose to be there.”
These education workshops and festivals are ways for people to gain information on the ecosystem in the lower Great Lakes, the potential dangers, and ways to prevent any damage to the environment.
The festival was made possible due to several sponsors, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the city of Dunkirk, Chautauqua County, Lake Shore Savings Bank, the Paper Factory, SUNY Fredonia and DFT Communications.