Representatives from three environmental groups travelled to the region on August 25 to discuss algae blooms in Lake Erie.
Nancy Goucher, Program Manager for Environmental Defence, Tony Maas of Freshwater Future Canada, and Raj Gill, Great Lakes Organizer for Freshwater Alliance, invited media to travel with them to Pelee Island to discuss blue-green algae and the damage it does to the Lakes and the local economy.
Chante Charters of Kingsville provided transportation for the trip. Captain John Sim talked about his experiences with algae over the years. He said that when alga is thick it becomes a slimy gel that suffocates other living things in the water.
“I’ve been fishing this lake for over 35 years and I’ve seen a lot of change,” he said. “Algae blooms are causing a lot of problems for the commercial fisheries.”
Essex County is near the Western Basin of Lake Erie, and traditionally our local fishermen could operate here for the whole season. Sim explained that over the last couple of years, the commercial fisheries have to leave early in the season for the Central Basin because they can’t catch their quotas here. When the algae get thick, the fish leave too.
Pelee Island Mayor Rick Masse said the island had been very lucky this year because the bloom hadn’t reached their shores, but last year, algae was a disaster for the island and its residents.
He estimated that last year the island lost between $850,000 and $900,000 over the Labour Day weekend alone, not to mention the ongoing loss of tourist revenue that occurred over the remainder of the year.
The biggest problem created by the bloom was undrinkable water. Algal is toxic and boiling water only makes the toxin more potent.
“Last year was huge, you couldn’t shower or brush your teeth,” he said.
Algal thrives in phosphorus rich environments and phosphorus from agricultural run-off, human waste and other sources help to create an excess of phosphorus in the water that leads to the excess growth of algae.
“We need to stop using the lake as a toilet,” Masse said.
Masse also said that re-creating swamps and wetlands is important.
“We’ve taken away all of our natural filters,” he said.
Tony Maase explained that it is a complicated issue that won’t be solved overnight.
“The solution is going to take years,” he said. “There is no silver bullet.”
Michigan and Ontario governments have set a goal of 40 percent phosphorus reduction, by 2025. All three groups say that this is a good step, but that governments on both sides of the border need to do more to solve the problem.