Pictures for Radio: An afternoon on Lake Winnipeg and the MV Namao

A couple weeks ago, I had the chance to travel to Canada for the first time to document environmental issues on Canada’s Lake Winnipeg.  You may have seen my review of a Canadian hot dog last week.  I can tell you my experience in Gimli and aboard the MV Namao was much better than that hot dog tasted or looked.

What is happening to Lake Winnipeg is a familiar story to anyone who is paying attention to the plight of lakes in this country.  Increased phosphorus runoff from wastewater, animal manure, laundry detergents and fertilizer are creating massive algal blooms in lakes, which can impact wildlife and fisherman and make swimming a dangerous venture if the algae that you are swimming in happens to be of the blue-green variety.

In Minnesota and North Dakota, more intense farming and floods have greatly increased the amount of phosphorous the flows north out of the Red River and into Lake Winnipeg.  Where algal blooms were once a thing that happened to other lakes and not Lake Winnipeg, it is now getting so bad that fishermen and the Canadian government are working hard to understand and stop the problem.  Enter the Motor Vessel (MV) Namao.  This retired Coast Guard vessel makes three cruises a year in the spring, summer and winter testing the same 65 locations during each season.  This gives the scientists good baseline information about what is happening to the lake.

If you do a little research, the same thing was happening to Lake Erie in the 1970s.  Massive algal blooms were appearing every year polluting beaches and devastating industries dependent on the lake.  People called the lake dead.  Scientists studied the problem, discovered inordinate amounts of phosphorus in the lake, put a stop to the primary sources and within a few years the lake came back to life.  It’s a success story that scientists aboard the MV Namao hope can be repeated here without ever getting as dire as the Lake Erie story.

This is where the scientists come in.  In the pictures below, they are studying everything from water quality characteristics to details about Lake Winnipeg’s food chain.  All of this information will go into developing a better understanding of a lake that was rarely studied before these issues surfaced.  In the end, they are hopeful this information will lead to some sort of change that will preserve the lake for generations to come.

Click here for a link to Minnesota Public Radio’s story on the subject…

To listen to MPR’s audio piece on the story, check it out below…

And now for the pictures!

Andrew Olynyk (right) takes a whiff of an Emerald Shiner after Heather Clark (center) commented that it smelled like cucumbers Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada. To the left is Katie Sheppard. The three were separating fish brought up by a trawling net that skimmed the surface of Lake Winnipeg.

Increased phosphate and nitrate runoff from the Red River is one of the primary causes of more frequent and intense algae blooms in Canada's Lake Winnipeg.

University of Manitoba research student Heather Clark holds a small Emerald Shiner that was pulled out of the water after trawling Lake Winnipeg Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada.

The contents of a trawling net that skimmed the surface of Lake Winnipeg for about 30 minutes Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada. The fish were separated by species and then weighed, packaged and sent off as part of different studies involving Lake Winnipeg.

Every single fish brought to the surface by trawling nets aboard the MV Namao would have to be counted and weighed as part of a study to see what walleyes were feeding on in Lake Winnipeg Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada.

Sunrise over Lake Winnipeg near Gimli Harbor in Gimli, Manitoba in Canada. Increased phosphate and nitrate runoff from the Red River is one of the primary causes of more frequent and intense algae blooms in Canada's Lake Winnipeg.

LEFT: Heather Clark uses a small fishing net to sift through the smallest remaining fish caught in a fishing trawl while aboard the MV Namao Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada. Some of the fish are barely the size of a fingernail and each must be captured, counted and weighed. RIGHT: A bag of Cisco fish taken from a trawling net sit in a plastic bag awaiting shipment to various research institutions in Canada as part of ongoing studies to learn more about Lake Winnipeg.

Gordon Chamberlain (right) and Elise Watchorn (2nd from right), both of Environment Canada, empty their trawling nets Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada. Next to Watchorn is University of Manitoba student Andrew Olynyk (far left) and above Watchorn is University of Manitoba student Katie Sheppard. The four were aboard the MV Namao.

A fishing trawl aboard the MV Namao is lowered into Lake Winnipeg while the ship's captain Walter Lee (center, bottom) watches Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada. The net would skim the surface of the lake looking to see what fish such as walleyes might be feeding on.

The MV Namao captain Walter Lea looks through binoculars looking for buoys put out by fisherman while on Lake Winnipeg Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada. The nets can span the length of a football field and can be dense in areas so Lea has to have a keen eye so they do not run over and destroy any nets.

The MV Namao's fore during research operations on Lake Winnipeg Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada.

Sunrise over docked sailboats in Gimli Harbor in Gimli, Manitoba in Canada. Increased phosphate and nitrate runoff from the Red River is one of the primary causes of more frequent and intense algae blooms in Canada's Lake Winnipeg.

University of Saskatchewan student Amy Ofukany pulls Lake Winnipeg water from the Seabird Rosette Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada. The Seabird Rosette is an auto-sampler that measures water characteristics such as conductivity, oxygen levels, light penetration and turbidity. These are some key characteristics in determining whether algae blooms will form.

The University of Regina's Vince Ignatiuk (left) and the University of Manitoba's Kaite Sheppard (right) help hoist a tube containing a probe that penetrated the floor of Lake Winnipeg Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada. The two were aboard the MV Namao.

Manitoba Water Stewardship's Shannon McDougal (right) smiles after someone stepped on a hose aboard the MV Namao and water gushed out of it hitting McDougal and making her wet Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada. Next to McDougal is Enivornment Canada's Todd Breeden. McDougal and Breeded were in the boat because when a probe that penetrated the floor of Lake Winnipeg is brought to the surface, someone needs to plug the bottom of the probe so the sediment does not fall out when it is lifted into the ship.

The MV Namao sits in the Gimli Harbor after a day on the water Thursday, June 3, 2010 near Gimli, Manitoba in Canada.