Should Lake Erie Be Seen as a Model for Resilience or a Toxic Algae Mess?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently predicted another banner year for toxic algae in Lake Erie. Late summer will likely bring blooms of pesto-green scum to Lake Erie. And yet this is the same lake with the notorious reputation for being declared “dead” in the 1970s.
Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, more a saucer than a bowl. It’s warm too, with productive waters that can support a $10 million charter sport-fishing industry each year.
Despite huge investments in “restoration”, images of swirling blue-green algae still stream in from satellite images of its western basin. Photo credit: Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
The shallow depths of the lake intensify its productivity. Each year, as the lake warms, it “turns over,” bringing all the nutrients that have settled to its bottom back into the water column, spurring blooms of algae that feast upon the juicy jazzed up waters. This is a natural process, with the sing-song name of eutrophication.
Add even more nutrients and the lake doesn’t die. It becomes more alive.
In the 1960s, years of nutrient pollution caught up with Lake Erie. Sewage treatment plants and farm fields funneled so much phosphorous into the lake that it choked with life. Huge algal blooms filled the basin, ensnaring fishing buoys and cigarette butts in huge gyres. The algae sucked the oxygen from the water, leaving massive fish kills in its wake. Even the trash strewn along the shore was covered in algae.
Billions of dollars were spent by state, federal and Canadian governments on the clean-up. New sewage treatment facilities, a phase-out of combined sewer overflows and regulations on detergents reduced phosphorous loading by at least 60 percent.
An unexpected source of help came from the mighty zebra mussel, an invasive bivalve that snuck into the lake through ballast and then settled right on in … on everything. Clogging water intake pipes and fouling boats and dock pilings, this mussel sucked up that algal soup and began clarifying the lake’s waters. The zebra and its sister mussel, the quagga, now filter the lake’s entire volume every 24 hours, straining out the tiny phytoplankton and algae.
As a restoration ecologist, I try not to see nature as a scrapbook of human error. But, it’s hard to see Lake Erie as anything but a restoration failure. Despite huge investments in “restoration,” images of swirling blue-green algae still stream in from satellite images of its western basin.
Yet, if you sailed out to Kelly’s Island today, you’d also likely find tangles of water snakes resting under the docks. These snakes were recently removed from the Endangered Species list and now thrive in the lake’s rewoven food web.
Lake Erie has been the poster child of environmental catastrophe for decades. It represents the challenges of trying to fix a system that is badly out of sync. It’s going to take a suite of restoration tools—policy, engineering, planting, digging, fishing, etc.—more than decades to return the lake to a naturally dynamic, functioning ecosystem. And some problems, like the mussel infestation, may never be fixed.
Lake Erie gets a lot of bad press—toxic algal blooms haven't done much for its image. But what if we instead considered the lake a model of resilience? For all its woes, the lake shifts, adapts and surprises. Just ask the snakes.
Rebecca L. Vidra is the director of undergraduate studies at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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