Our Lake Guardians share their thoughts about their training, their monitoring work and their outreach/education programs, where they share their considerable knowledge with the lake community.
SPREADING THE WORD
Not the SSW! On a sunny afternoon during the August long weekend, the Lake Guardians spent an afternoon with cottagers and boaters in Gilchrist Bay, showing them samples of Starry stonewort and sharing strategies for containing the spread.
by Kyra Urabe
Invasive species are an issue that cottagers do not take lightly. For most who share in the enjoyment of Clear, Ston(e)y, and White Lakes, protecting the lake ecosystem is a common goal. This was the attitude that greeted the Lake Guardians as we handed out buckets and information packages about Starry stonewort (SSW) – a fast-spreading macro alga – to lake-goers at Gilchrist Bay on Saturday of the August long weekend.
The buckets, as was explained to boaters, are an initiative to encourage boaters to check and clean their propellers when leaving areas with SSW. Boaters can safely store SSW in their bucket until they can dispose of it back on land to prevent the spread to other areas of the lake.
The information packages outlined the problems with SSW, some facts and key identifying features, Best Management Practices (BMP), and a map of the affected areas on Ston(e)y Lake. All information provided is available here on the Environment Council website: https://www.environmentcouncil.ca/starry-stonewort
It was encouraging to note on Saturday that many cottagers were already aware of SSW’s presence in Ston(e)y Lake and were keen to learn what BMP to follow. The Lake Guardians were able to help cottagers learn how to identify SSW for early detection near their own docks. Gilchrist Bay proved to be a great spot to set-up the day’s efforts because we could easily point out what SSW looks like from the dock, as well as show bagged samples we pulled from the water.
One thing to note: SSW has a twin – the Common stonewort (CSW). This species is a native Chara and provides important food and habitat for aquatic animals. It is easy to confuse the two because they are so similar in appearance. In Gilchrist Bay, the native Chara and SSW grow side-by-side, which allowed Lake Guardians to show cottagers the difference between the two types.
Here are some ways to identify SSW:
SSW is light green. The native Chara looks more brown-green.
SSW has 4-6 branches that come out from the “stem”. Branches come out of the same point, and these points occur many times along its skinny, smooth stem. The sections of “stem” between points where the branches sprout from are longer in SSW than the native Chara, creating a more “stringy” look for SSW, and a more “fluffy” look for the native Chara.
The native Chara has a strong sulfurous smell or “musk”. SSW does not smell!
THE KEY: SSW’s identifying feature that give it its charming name are little white stars, which are about 4 mm wide. These are located on clear threads that look like fishing line and are produced in August-September. These stars are deposited in the mud for the winter and begin to grow the next spring.
The good news is that cottagers are keen to help. Many asked if what they were already doing to prevent the spread is effective. They were open to the suggestions made by the Lake Guardians and the information about Best Management Practices (BMP) in the pamphlets. Hopefully these will serve as some light, educational, long-weekend reading. The Lake Guardians’ main message is below. Full BMP info is available on the Environment Council website.
What To Do If You Find It
If you see SSW in your part of the lake, email the Environment Council (https://www.environmentcouncil.ca/contact) A Lake Guardian will come and identify suspected SSW and notify the Trent Severn Waterway (Parks Canada).
When leaving an area with SSW, STOP and clear your Prop! Put any pieces you pick off into a bucket so when you get to land, you can dispose of it far from the water. Good places to dispose of SSW are on a burn pile, deep in the woods, and in the compost or garden!
There are more invasive species to watch out for. In addition to accurately mapping the lake’s areas of infestation, the Lake Guardians want to encourage practices that minimize the transfer of plant material both between different parts of the lake by encouraging “Stop and clear your Prop” protocols as well as between lakes with “Clean, Drain and Dry” practices. The Lake Guardians hope to do another SSW info session on Ston(e)y Lake possibly at a different location in the future. We look forward to talking with you then!
A Lake Guardian's Perspective
by Rosalyn Shepherd
For many cottagers, the sight of a turtle sparks interest and empathy, particularly if they're lucky enough to catch glimpses of its snout above water, or its carapace (its shell, indicative of its species) as it basks in the sun to warm its cold-blooded body. Volunteer Lake Guardians recently attended a field workshop – “turtle training” – that truly fed the curiosity evoked by these elusive creatures. What better way to learn about turtles than from the seat of a canoe, or thigh deep in organic matter in a small bay of Ston(e)y Lake? Led by Josh Feltham, a professor at Fleming College, “turtle training” allowed the Lake Guardians to get their feet wet (literally) as they learned.
Monitoring the turtle populations of Clear and Ston(e)y Lakes will be an important part of the Lake Guardians volunteer work this summer and as part of the long-term aquatic ecosystem monitoring plan currently being developed by the Environment Council. The Kawartha Lakes are home to six of the eight species of turtle found in Ontario. Some important notes from the training that every cottager should know are as follows:
Turtle Identification and Facts
The fear of Snapping turtles that makes us swim away quickly, keeping feet up off the lake bottom, is actually somewhat irrational. If you step on one, your toes are safe: Snapping Turtles do not bite in the water, only on land. If you do encounter one onshore, give it plenty of space, and enjoy the experience of watching one of these astonishing creatures.
Painted turtles and Map turtles look strikingly similar and are often mistaken for one another. They both have yellow markings on their neck and head and a dark green carapace. They can, however, be differentiated by their carapace; the Map turtle has a long raised spine on its carapace, the back of which appears serrated, and has white lines like a map (this is what gives this species its name).
Both Musk turtles and Snapping turtles have high-back carapaces and sometimes are difficult to distinguish from a distance or when they are young. The dinosaur-like spines and rough carapace are a well-known signature trait of the Snapping turtle. However, the Musk turtle, also known affectionately as a “Stinkpot,” has a smooth, high-domed, oval carapace.
Environmental Stressors and Risks
With low reproductive rates and hatchling survivorship, and taking about 20 years to reach reproductive maturity, removal of even one mature turtle can have a grave impact on a lake’s population.
All species of turtle face significant threats including shoreline habitat alteration impacting nesting sites, invasive species like Starry stonewort displacing their natural habitat, winter water level drawdown* causing mortality when hibernating on the lake bottom, road mortality when they are migrating to nesting areas and poaching smaller turtles like spotted and wood turtles for the turtle trade.
All turtles lay their eggs on land, in holes dug tediously in the dirt with their hind legs, on south-facing slopes. Some, like the Musk turtle, nest at the water's edge, and others such as the Wood turtle, migrate longer distances inland. Once nested, the unhatched eggs face threats of predation by otter, mink, and raccoon. If you think you’ve identified a turtle nest of any kind on your property, you can easily build a cover for it. Follow this link for instructions:https://ontarioturtle.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Turtle-Nests-and-Nest-Protection.pdfYou are also welcome to contact the Environment Council and/or Lake Guardians to get more information.
In watersheds with controlled water levels such as Clear and Ston(e)y Lakes, hibernating turtles are at significant risk. They hibernate on the lake bottom and often in bays or near stream inflows. However, when water levels are manipulated, a hibernating turtle can be frozen in the ice and not survive the winter.
With new development on Clear and Ston(e)y Lakes, turtle populations will face more and new stressors. It is paramount that turtle populations receive special attention to protect their habitats, nests, and bodies. Lake Guardian volunteers will be working to spread awareness of proper measures cottagers can take to protect turtles. You can do your part by protecting their nests, braking for turtles on roads and helping them across, being aware of turtles when you do in-water work in late fall or early spring, driving motor boats slowly in shallow areas or where you know there are turtles, and being an advocate for turtle protection! Follow the Environment Council [@environmentcouncil on Instagram and on Facebook] to see what the Lake Guardians get up to, and look for our next edition of Field Notes!
[*Click here to read more about lake levels and winter drawdown.]