Our Lake Guardians share their thoughts about their training, their monitoring work and their outreach to the lake community.
TESTING THE WATERS
The Lake Guardians Monitor Benthic Macroinvertebrates in Clear Lake, August 2020
By Kyra Urabe
Benthic invertebrates are small organisms that live in the benthic layer of lakes, rivers and streams. “Benthic” refers to the layer of sediment that is most closely associated with the water. This layer is the home of these creatures. “Invertebrates” means they do not have a spine, but instead have an exoskeleton to support their bodies. Macroinvertebrates are very small, but still large enough to be seen without microscopes.
As part of their duty to promote the health of Clear, Ston(e)y and White Lakes, the monitoring of these organisms is important for the Lake Guardians. Benthic invertebrates are good biological indicators of lake ecosystem health and productivity, mainly because they are sensitive to changes in the lake environment. Monitoring of these organisms through the Ontario Benthic Biomonitoring Network (OBBN) is key to detecting changes in the lake ecosystem for factors such as water temperature, oxygenation, pollution, and comparing long-term data.
Significant changes in these factors could affect other levels of the trophic pyramid by altering the abundance and diversity of benthic macroinvertebrates. These organisms are an important part of the trophic pyramid, or the “food-chain.” They are food for tertiary consumers, such as fish, which are in turn food for quaternary consumers, such as predatory birds. It is important to monitor them because a decline in benthic invertebrates can result in a decline in the organisms that feed on them.
Accordingly, on Wednesday August 5th, the Lake Guardians suited up with hip-waders and 500µm D-nets (specific net shape and mesh size to effectively catch macroinvertebrates)) to search for these organisms on the sandy beach of Camp Kawartha. Many of the Lake Guardians already have their OBBN certification or are completing the course. With the guidance of Brendan Martin and Sadie Fischer from U-links Centre for Community Based Research, the team practiced the “kick-and-sweep” method to collect organisms hiding in the sediment. This technique involves a heels-together, backwards, zig-zag shuffle to “kick” up the sediment, while “sweeping” the net back and forth to collect what has been stirred up.
The Lake Guardians then transferred the contents of their nets into white bins and petri dishes to observe their findings. For the Lake Guardians with previous OBBN training, identification of the organisms proved to be an easy task. They then helped the others quickly learn tips for how to identify benthos based on their size, shape, movement and other key features. A common favourite in the group were the Trichoptera (caddisflies), which often build a portable house or a fixed retreat for themselves. Another were the mites, which appear as 1-7mm dots that zip around the water in loops.
Although the beach sediment looked plain upon arrival, the Lake Guardians found it was teeming with life! This could be a good sign for the health of our lakes. More specifically, the presence of caddisflies, stoneflies, and mayflies may indicate that our lake ecosystem is doing well because these taxa are highly sensitive to pollution and require high dissolved oxygen content! We hope to set up another monitoring site closer to the outflow of Clear Lake where we will continue to monitor these important little creatures.
Chadde, J.S. (2006). Macroinvertebrates as Bioindicators of Stream Health. [Powerpoint].
Western U.P. Centre for Science, Mathematics and Environmental Educ. Retrieved from
Dorset Environmental Science Centre. (2020). The Ontario Benthic Biomonitoring Network.
Retrieved from https://desc.ca/programs/OBBN
Jones, N.E. (2011). Benthic Sampling in Natural and Regulated Rivers. Sampling Methodologies
for Ontario’s Flowing Waters. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Aquatic Research
and Development Section, River and Stream Ecology Lab, Aquatic Research Series
Martin, B. (2020). Diagnostic Characters 27 Group - Taxonomy. [Powerpoint].
Pictured below, from left: Madeline Tregenza, Lucy Martin-Johnson, Kaleigh Mooney, Kyra Urabe, Roselyn Shepherd, Annalise Buchowski, Brendan Martin, Ed Paleczny, and Sadie Fischer.
SPREADING THE WORD
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.]