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International research flotilla chase giant Lake Erie algal bloom

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2019-08-07 Jonathan Pinto
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An international flotilla of scientists fanned out across the western basin of Lake Erie Wednesday, gathering water samples in an effort to learn more about an algal bloom covering much of the area.

Harmful algal blooms — or HABs — have been a concern in the western basin of Lake Erie for years. In 2014, the issue came to the forefront when toxic blooms shut down the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people in Toledo, Ohio.

The RV MonArk was one of two University of Windsor vessels taking part in the study. © Jonathan Pinto/CBC The RV MonArk was one of two University of Windsor vessels taking part in the study.

This year, a large bloom is again covering much of the American side — and it's starting to reach the Canadian mainland near Colchester, Ont.

A multi-agency, multi-university group scientists on eight vessels collected water samples Wednesday morning from roughly 200 locations in a two-hour time span — something they call a "HABs Grab."

It's unknown if this year's bloom is toxic, something scientists hope to determine with today's effort.

a close up of a map: Eight research vessels, including three Canadian boats, set out on Lake Erie Wednesday to chase a giant algal bloom. © Ed Verhamme/LimnoTech Eight research vessels, including three Canadian boats, set out on Lake Erie Wednesday to chase a giant algal bloom.

"This is the first time that they've had Canadian participation," said Mike McKay, executive director of the University of Windsor's Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER).

"When we looked at the effort last year of HABs Grab, you saw a void north of the border line — so we wanted to remedy that."

Three Canadian vessels took part: One from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as well as two other boats from GLIER.

a man standing in front of a tree posing for the camera: Mike McKay leads the University of Windsor's Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. © Jonathan Pinto/CBC Mike McKay leads the University of Windsor's Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research.

"All of the crews are using the exact same collection techniques, the exact same analytical approaches," explained Ken Drouillard, a University of Windsor professor and member of GLIER. 

"The idea is to try and take this snapshot of the bloom conditions in Lake Erie as it was today, and compare it to (the forecasting model) ... they want to basically test how accurate that model is."

Samples from all eight vessels will be sent to the United States for testing. Results are expected as soon as next week.

a man smiling for the camera: Ken Drouillard was aboard the RV MonArk Wednesday. © Jonathan Pinto/CBC Ken Drouillard was aboard the RV MonArk Wednesday.
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