NLDC Water Program Update

by Jamie VandenLangenberg, Water Program Director at the Discovery Center, [email protected]

Help Out a Friend, the Freshwater Mussel

Why are freshwater mussels so important? Mussels filter pesticides, mercury, and other pollution from the water and keep it out of fish. They also accumulate nutrients through filter feeding and convert it into food that is used by fish and other invertebrates, in addition to being a source of food for otters, racoons, muskrats, ducks, fish and other wading birds.

Every fall, the dam draw down on the Manitowish Chain occurs. This process begins on October 1 and decreases the water level 3.5 feet on the Chain over the course of 30 days. Although many aquatic organisms are able to adapt to these changes in water levels, some animals may struggle. Mussels often spend their entire lives in a small section of a river or lakebed. Mussels can use their muscular foot to move, but often only short distances over a long period. They are extremely important for lake ecosystems and freshwater mussels (Family Unionidae) are the most imperiled group of animals in the world. With nearly 65% of North American species considered endangered, there are 24 of the 52 species of mussels in Wisconsin that are threatened, endangered, or special concern.

What can you do to help???
During the drawdown (October), take some time to walk the shorelines of shallow areas throughout the Manitowish Chain of Lakes and move mussels back into the water. Look for them in areas where the water has recently receded. Freshwater mussels do not move quickly and sometimes may be left to dry out if they cannot keep up with the lowering water. These efforts can help maintain the mussel population and help keep our lakes healthy.

An Aquatic Herbarium

What is an herbarium you ask? An herbarium is a collection of plant specimens that are stored for many reasons including education, species identification, for science and research, and the list goes on. This summer the Water Program team began their own herbarium of aquatic plants (and a few terrestrial ones that we just couldn’t resist!) that are stored at the North Lakeland Discovery Center.

This project was led by Lake Technician, Rebecca Fagley, as her summer project. We began collecting one specimen of every species we’ve encountered in the Northwoods lakes and rivers. The process for preserving aquatic plants is quite creative. Aquatic plants often have very thin leaves, such as the bladderworts (Utricularia spp.) and small pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.) which can be very delicate and become limp and entangled when they are taken out of the water. To get these plants to press flat and in character, we float them in a bin of water and submerge a piece of paper beneath them, slowly raising the paper so that the plant is brought out of the water and left pressed onto the paper. Plants are then pressed, as terrestrial specimens are, in a plant press, dried, and then stored with labels for identification and information. If you’re interested in viewing our herbarium collection, reach out to Water Program Director, Jamie Van.

Science and Shipwrecks

Two members of our water program team recently attended a workshop offered by SeaGrant to learn about ways to incorporate the Great Lakes into our educational workshops. This trip offered so many creative ideas for teaching water related content, such as activities for PH, dissolved oxygen, water quality, sampling techniques, light-wave lengths through water, and more! One that really stood out was the use of ROVs (Remote Operated Vehicles) underwater! We learned how and why this tool is used, got to see an ROV operated on a shipwreck in Lake Michigan, and learned about where we can access several ROV’s to use with visiting schools on site at the Discovery Center. We look forward to exploring Statehouse Lake underwater and teaching kids about technology and the underwater world.

Reminder – please get your AIS volunteer hours to Jamie ASAP! This is vital information that helps fund our grants.