PUT-IN-BAY, OHIO – In the middle of western Lake Erie, just south of the boundary line for Canadian waters, is a collection of islands where critical environmental research helps protect the shallowest but richest in fish among the Great Lakes.
The protection of natural resources within Lake Erie and the preservation of its water quality are the collective focus of much of the work among scientists who come to South Bass and tiny Gibraltar islands. Research done there is meant to inform decision-making about the major North American watershed, known for having the largest commercial fishery among all the Great Lakes.
Yet among the pleasure crafts and passenger ferries are research vessels with scientists aboard. They are checking algae levels. Monitoring invasive species. Taking water temperatures. Measuring water clarity. Testing for contaminants. Sampling fish populations. Listening to charter boat captains.
It seems Put-in-Bay is a Great Lakes research hub.
“We’re not just trying to do science for science’s sake. We’re trying to do science that informs behavior management, and perhaps ultimately policies,” said Chris Winslow, director of Ohio Sea Grant college program and Stone Laboratory.
Researchers are working on projects that range from climate change and ice cover to invasive species and nutrient loading the watershed. How the dead zone in Lake Erie impacts fish to how invasive zebra and quagga mussels affect algae growth.
“We do not do things in isolation. We try and work with multiple academic institutions, not just Ohio State University. And we also make sure we’re working with state and federal agencies. I’m also happy to report we have a great working relationship with our counterparts on the Canadian side,” Winslow said Aug. 31 during a conference at Stone Laboratory.
A large focus of research goes toward the phenomenon of harmful algal blooms and the dynamics of nutrients in Lake Erie. Charter fishing boat captains are involved in data collection for the scientists.
Researchers learned many organisms that form harmful algal blooms are native to Lake Erie waters, but only become problematic when environmental conditions are just right. Often those conditions are caused or exacerbated by humans, like from septic and animal waste runoff, excessive fertilizer use, industrial pollution, and more.
In addition to being a home base for countless elements of Great Lakes research, Stone Laboratory offers both high school and college classes for science students. The facility also hosts a teachers’ training seminar, elementary school field trips, and other non-credit public education workshops.
Stone Laboratory has remained a freshwater field station since 1895 and part of The Ohio State University since 1925.