Among the 270 finalists selected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, is a proposal titled, Great Lakes Instrumentation Collaboratory (GLIC) Implementing Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Monitoring, to study the health of coastal wetlands across the entire Great Lakes basin.
If the proposal gets the final go-ahead, it would be one of the largest collaborations of its kind and could begin in the next few months. The $10 million project would be led by Don Uzarski, PhD, Director of Central Michigan University Biological Station & Director of Great Lakes Environmental Research at CMU
“In addition to scientists from CMU,” said Uzarski, “the monitoring consortium assembled to carry out this project consists of U.S. scientists from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Grand Valley State University, University of Notre Dame, Lake Superior State University, State University of New York-Brockport, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and Oregon State University, and one resource management official from the Michigan DNRE. Canadian scientists from the University of Windsor, Environment Canada, and Bird Studies Canada will also be key participants in the project.”
Uzarski said the project has been in the planning stages since 2000, when a group of researchers began raising concerns about the loss of coastal wetlands. “We’ve already lost more than 50% around the Great Lakes and we realized how important they are. At the time, we had no good indication where all of them were located.
The systems are very dynamic and therefore a challenge. In high water years, you may not see much of the coastal wetlands. In low water years, they could represent hundreds of meters.”
Outlining the significance of the project, one of the collaborators, GVSU scientist, Alan Steinman, PhD., Director of the Robert B. Annis Water Research Institute, said, “Over a five year period we will analyze the plants, birds, amphibians and reptiles to get an idea what their conditions are. These are critical habitats for spawning of our fish for the nurseries and filtering out nutrients. We need to figure out what condition they’re in and how to improve them.”
Three of AWRI’s proposals were also among the 270 finalists selected by EPA. Details on those proposals appeared in an earlier article, $1 million dollars in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding earmarked for West Michigan .
In describing the mix of the GLIC collaborators, Uzarski said, “It was made up of 150 individuals, representing over 50 agencies. These were scientists, managers and policy makers, getting together to see how we can get this off the ground. At the same time we were realizing there were no well developed tools to monitor the ecosystem health.”
The group formed the Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands Consortium and began developing the protocols and tools to measure the health of the ecosystems.
“It took us all the way until 2008,” said Uzarski, “to develop the tools. Those tools include using history, chemistry, macro invertebrates, fish, birds, amphibians, as well as land cover and land use variables. We can take those measurements now and be able to quantify ecosystem health and put a number on it.”
In 2008 the GLCWC joined forces with a group out of Duluth, MN studying the Great Lakes ecological indicators,”We decided to make sure we were putting together the best possible effort we could,” said Uzarski, “We got together and merged all the information into one final report with a scientifically sound experimental design . It included all of the tools to measure ecosystem health.”
Uzarski indicated a key factor in the project design was the idea that each of the collaborating organizations could monitor the sites closest to their location and save an enormous amount of money and travel.
“As the proposal is written,” said Uzarski, “over a five year period, we will have sampled pretty much all of the Great Lakes coastal wetlands. There are about 1,200 sites.
This is something that has never happened before and will give us an enormous amount of data. The databases we are putting in place are incredible. They will be maintained by the University of Minnesota, as well as the EPA, Great Lakes National Program Office. We did want to make sure we had it at a government agency. Just to have a project of this magnitude is something we’re really looking forward to if it does get funded.”
The GLRI speaks volumes about the commitment the EPA has made to the Great Lakes region. Michigan is fortunate to have scientists like Uzarski and Steinman keeping a mindful eye on these natural wonders so that those who follow behind us may enjoy them as well.
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