Lake excursions help our understanding of Lake Champlain’s value, problems

NANCY WOLFE STEAD

The health of Vermont’s precious resource, Lake Champlain, is much on our minds these perfect summer days. Recently, a group from Wake Robin boarded the UVM research vessel Melosira to get a better understanding of both the lake’s composition and its problems. Its beauty is undeniable. Its problems — pollution, an over-abundance of phosphorous and increasing incidence of blue-green algae, the growing number of invasive species, up to 51 now with the newly arrived fishhook waterflea sent to us from the Caspian Sea — are staggering and solutions are infinitely complex.

UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environmental and Natural Sciences and the Lake Champlain Seagrant program have joined forces to run two-hour summer educational trips for the public. We were hosted by Captain Steve Cluett, his assistant Brian, and Caroline Blake and Katherine Helmer from the Watershed Program Alliance.

Lake Champlain’s watershed, all the land and the waters running over them, has an unusually high ratio of land to water. The lake is long and skinny, 124 miles long and mostly narrow with one 14-mile wide bulge. The ratio of land to water, 18 to 1, poses a high stress level on the receiving waters. The lake is also very deep with many of the same flora, fauna and marine life as the Great Lakes.

Various tests were run monitoring temperature, turbidity and organisms present. Melosira is, appropriately, the name of a phytoplankton present in the lake. It was seen large and wiggling upon a microscope’s TV monitor on the boat.

We were also introduced to an amazing new product, the Cora Ball, an ingenious invention developed by a Vermonter to filter microfibers out of our laundry. The fabric in our beloved active wear never disintegrates. The plastic-based fibers grow smaller and smaller but live on, leaving our washers to enter the waterways, be ingested by organisms, and enter the food chain. The Cora Ball filters the infinitely tiny bits for disposal as a bit of fluff.

In an interesting digression, Capt. Cluett noted the lightning speed of technology development in marine instruments. It is now, for example, possible to program an instrument to cross the Atlantic while conducting a variety of tests, surfacing at intervals to export data and import instructions during its passage. He scores engineering cutting-edge marine instruments the number one field to enter.

Gaining better understanding of Lake Champlain problems is a step forward in finding and promoting intelligent solutions. These educational excursions are a wonderful learning tool for kids as well as adults.

For information call Ashley Eaton, 802-391-4410, akeaton@uvm.edu. Seven excursions remain on the summer calendar and are from 9-11 a.m., or 5:30-7:30 p.m.

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