ON THE WATERFRONT: Great Lakes Festival returns

People of all ages came out to take a glimpse and learn a little bit about the region’s habitat at the second Annual Great Lakes Experience Festival took place at Memorial Park Saturday afternoon. Owls, falcons and fish were on display for visitors to observe and gain some insight from experts.

This year saw more organizations participate than last year. The SPCA of Erie County, the Buffalo Audubon Society and the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy were on hand for the first time.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had several tents showing diagrams of the region along with activities for children to partake in, including a butterfly tent. Children were able to enter the tent to see several butterflies and learn about pollination. According to Betsy Trometer of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this week is national pollinator week.

Trometer is the lake sturgeon coordinator of the lower Great Lakes, surveying and rehabilitating lake sturgeon. She talked about the type of work the fish and wildlife service has done in part through the funding received from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. They have recently done work in Erie County, and are trying to receive funding for a project in Chautauqua County.

“We’re creating dams for fish passage, along with stream restoration,” Trometer said. “We are actually in the process of getting funding for Chautauqua Creek for better fish passage. This year up in Springville at Spring Brook, we did an in-stream restoration that benefits the brook trout.”

Also on display was equipment used to map the Great Lakes, called the side sonar scanner.

The scanner is a remote sensing technology that is used to take photographs of the lake using sound waves. Chris Castiglione of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mentioned that a larger version of the sonar scanner is being used to track the missing Malaysian jet.

“We’ll scan the bottom and get some imagery, and then we have to go through and classify if it’s dirt, mud, or rock,” Castiglione said. “Then we go back over with the camera and ground truth all the areas we mapped to double check.”

Castiglione went on to mention, when it shoots the image, it’s like a camera, but it uses sound waves. Since it uses sound waves, they can use it in dark and murky water. The brighter the image is, the harder the surface since it bounces off the surface faster. The darker the image, the softer the surface is. The equipment recently was used in the Niagara River for mapping purposes along with tracking sturgeon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has projects set up to scan areas in eastern Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

People were able to learn about restorations and projects taking place in the region, but they also gained some insight on a few issues. One problem that’s present and continues to worsen in the Great Lakes, according to Dale Ollila of the Great Lakes Fishery, is the sea lamprey. The sea lampreys entered the Great Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean, making their way through man-made canals. The first documentation stating the sea lamprey’s arrival in the region was in 1825.

According to the Great Lakes fishery, a single sea lamprey will destroy up to 18 kilograms (40 lbs) of fish during its adult lifetime. Sea lampreys attach to fish with their suction mouth and use their tongue to feed on the fish’s blood and bodily fluids.

“They always will be in the Great Lakes,” Ollila said. “There are some years more, some years less. They’re pretty free swimming as they come from the ocean. But we can keep them under control with aquatic pesticide, and it’s used in streams, including Canadaway and Cattaraugus.”

Ollila went on to say that around 100 people work to control the number of sea lamprey. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission works with Fisheries and Oceans in Canada, since they have the same issue in Lake Ontario, and the Army Corps of Engineers to fight the issue. Ollila stated why the sea lamprey is such a problem in the Great Lakes and not in the ocean.

“Sucking the blood out of the shark or large fish in the ocean won’t hurt fish in the ocean since they’re big,” Ollila said. “They won’t get enough out of it. It’s like getting a prick on the finger. That’s why they don’t destroy the fisheries in the ocean. In all the years I worked here, that’s the explanation I can give.”

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