January 2013

Tackling Complex Environmental Problems

What do muck, water highways, small harbors, Great Lakes education, the Grand River and dead birds have in common? They are all emerging or ongoing complex problems experienced in coastal Michigan that have been identified in Michigan Sea Grant’s call for proposals.

Michigan Sea Grant is soliciting research proposals for the next round of funding. Projects begin in 2014 and run until 2016. Projects must follow an Integrated Assessment approach to research and must address one of the following issues that have been identified as wicked problems by stakeholders throughout the Great Lakes.

Below is a summary of the research issues included in the current request for proposals.

Issue: Keeping the Highways of the Sea Open

Overview: Not unlike our system of interstate and state highways and local roads, Michigan’s navigation system consists of several different types of ports and harbors — federally and state authorized deep draft ports, shallow draft ports, recreational harbors and harbors of refuge — that ideally work together to form a comprehensive, cost-effective fresh water sea navigation system.

However, the system faces physical (e.g., persistent low water levels), economic and political constraints. The result is a system in danger of crumbling, coastal communities facing economic detriment, and planning that is plagued by inconsistent, piecemeal approaches.

Project Focus: Research in this area would bring together stakeholders from all sectors and levels of government to consider how local, state and federal policies and programs can be developed and enhanced to support a comprehensive regional maritime transportation system.


Issue: Habitat Enhancement and the Grand River

Overview: While Michigan offers more than 36,000 miles of stream and river habitat, high-gradient habitat is extremely rare in large rivers, mainly as a result of dams. High-gradient river habitats — river areas that typically have tall, steep banks and higher velocity water flow — offer unique recreation opportunities, increased navigability and high-quality fish habitat. Some of these dams no longer serve their intended purpose and offer opportunities for habitat enhancement through partial or complete removal.

In Grand Rapids, the Grand River once flowed over bedrock rapids. Some of the rock was quarried, channels were excavated, and a series of dams was built to provide industrial, navigational and aesthetic benefits at the expense of the river’s natural character. This altered habitat is in the heart of the state’s second largest urban area and currently provides recreational opportunities that could be enhanced or diminished through restoration of rapids habitat and alteration or removal of existing dams.

Project Focus: A research project in this area could examine habitat enhancements while weighing potential benefits and drawbacks of various actions.

Issue: Putting the Great Lakes into Great Lakes Education

Overview: Michigan is the Great Lakes state, but Great Lakes content is not incorporated into the state’s K-12 curriculum in a meaningful way. Many public and private entities have allocated considerable resources to develop Great Lakes curricula, professional development for teachers and educational programs for students.

However, Michigan students typically learn about the water cycle and other key science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts through topics that are not focused based on the Great Lakes examples or cases.

Project Focus: A research team would investigate the question: We have the resources, effective methods and an incredible network of collaborators — why has Great Lakes content not been fully incorporated into Michigan’s curriculum?

Issue: Sustaining Small Harbors

Overview: Along Michigan’s coastline, shallow draft harbors that cater to recreational boaters and serve as harbors of refuge fill an important economic and navigational safety role for those communities. However, the decade-long trend of lower water levels combined with a challenged economy has resulted in operational dredging and harbor infrastructure maintenance being delayed or foregone entirely.

Without adequate access to many of these small harbors, the loss of property values and subsequent loss in tax revenues is devastating local economies. What are the long-term, sustainable strategies that will enable Michigan’s coastal communities to continue to reap the economic and safety benefits of small harbors?

Project Focus: Researchers would identify the suite of management actions, local policies and initiatives — as well as relevant state and federal policies and programs — that could collectively support a sustainable harbor management strategy for Michigan’s coastal communities.

Issue: Muck in Saginaw Bay

Overview: Saginaw Bay has experienced algal blooms for more than 40 years. The blooms and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) have influenced drinking water quality, and during some years, dead and decaying plants have accumulated on beaches and formed an unpleasant muck.

A number of factors are believed to influence the severity and type of algal problems in the Bay, including excess nutrients, zebra and quagga mussel populations, lake levels, water circulation patterns and weather conditions. Recent research efforts have examined how different factors interact and influence water quality; however, translating these interactions into management strategies to address conditions in the Bay is still a challenge.

Project Focus: A research team would summarize what is known about the causes and consequences of algae problems, identify and evaluate feasible management actions to address them, and develop tools to guide management decisions.


Issue: Bird Die-offs and Botulism

Overview: In recent years, mass waterfowl and other shore bird deaths have been growing in frequency and spreading across the Great Lakes basin. The deaths are attributed to botulism toxin poisoning from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum (Type E botulism), which is commonly known as avian botulism.

While the ecological cause-and-effect of the problem is fairly well understood, the questions of where to break the chain of events with a potential human intervention, what that intervention might be, and where and how it would be implemented are still open.

Project Focus: Researchers would examine the causes, consequences and potential solutions to the increase in Type E botulism outbreaks in northern Lake Michigan and contribute to efforts already underway to address the issue.

To learn more or to submit a proposal, see: RFP Details

RFP at a Glance

Pre-proposals due: Feb. 22, 2013
Invitations for full proposals sent: March 18, 2013
Full proposals due: May 3, 2013

Key Points

  • Researchers at universities in Michigan are eligible to lead as PIs.
  • Projects must follow  Integrated Assessment approach.
  • A 50% non-federal match is required.
  • Research should address a 2013 research topic.
  • Project duration is up to two years, up to $75,000 per year.
  • Projects run from 2014 to 2016.

News Briefs

The Good Fat

Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator Ron Kinnunen recently co-authored a paper titled “Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Fish from the Laurentian Great Lakes Tribal Fisheries” with scientists from Concordia University, University of Guelph and the Inter-tribal Fisheries Assessment Program. The paper has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Human and Ecological Risk Assessment.

See: Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Fish


Think Spring – Think Recycle!

For those who live in coastal or lake communities in Michigan, the sight of blue or white winterized boats perched upon trailers is common this time of year. Boat winterization often includes the use of shrink-wrap to cover the boat.

As you dream about hitting the water this spring, be sure to come up with a plan to recycle shrink-wrap.

See: Shrink-wrap Recycling


Open Position: Extension Specialist/Program Coordinator

Michigan Sea Grant is seeking an Extension Specialist/Program Coordinator, based in East Lansing at Michigan State University. This is a full-time, three-year term position.

Interested and qualified candidates should visit the MSU jobs site to apply for posting number 7169 in the MSU Extension postings. Application deadline is Feb. 4, 2013.

See: MSU Job Site (search for 7169)

Upcoming Events

Great Lakes Water Levels 101

The free event will feature information on low lake levels for shoreline property owners and interested citizens, and includes a question-and-answer session with Great Lakes specialists.

When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4
Where: Grand Traverse County Civic Center Meeting Room, Traverse City, Mich.
The following specialists will answer questions:

Mark Breederland, Michigan Sea Grant Extension

Hans Van Sumeren, NMC Water Studies Institute

Robyn Schmidt, Michigan DEQ Water Resources Division

Jeff Fritsma, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Additional Information