March 2021

Freedom Seekers curriculum highlights environmental justice in the Great Lakes

Innovative new curriculum materials draw important connections among the Great Lakes, environmental literacy, and the Freedom Seekers who used their skills as environmentalists and naturalists to navigate the Underground Railroad.

To help educators and students learn about Freedom Seekers and their experiences of escaping from slavery, Michigan Sea Grant and partners developed a free middle and high school curriculum, Freedom Seekers: The Underground Railroad, Great Lakes, and Science Literacy Activities. The lessons acknowledge the enslaved Africans who relied on environmental science principles in their quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Freedom Seekers curriculum project is a collaborative effort among several organizations and schools throughout the Great Lakes, including Michigan Sea Grant and the Center for Great Lakes Literacy (CGLL). It is designed to help educators incorporate Environmental Justice Education (EJE) approaches into K-12 teaching. These EJE approaches leverage cross-curricular connections that focus on increasing awareness of local issues and history in the Great Lakes region. These lessons engage students in place-based learning, helping them discover their local history with the Underground Railroad and its connection to the Great Lakes.

“We are excited to offer this curriculum through the Center for Great Lakes Literacy network,” said Meaghan Gass, Michigan Sea Grant Extension educator and CGLL network partner. “Using Google Docs, we hope it will be easy for educators to integrate this content into their classroom – either in-person or virtual – this school year, and we hope students enjoy learning more about Freedom Seekers and helping to share their story in the Great Lakes basin.”

“These activities are meant to be a launching point for students to continue to engage in robust, well-rounded conversations about the Great Lakes, an area with rich environmental resources and cultural history,” said Monica Miles, former coastal literacy specialist for New York Sea Grant (now Chief Diversity Officer of Equity and Inclusion with the Physician Assistant Education Association) and the person responsible for dreaming up this project. In an episode of the podcast, Teach Me about The Great Lakes, Miles explains more in depth about the importance of EJE and the connections made in the curriculum and why it is so valuable to educate youth about the history of the land where they live.

Click to view the free curriculum as a Google Doc or PDF. Click to edit and use the curriculum. The project team also created a brief video guide to using the materials.

Research fellow finds habitat loss affecting black tern

Funded as a graduate fellow through Michigan Sea Grant, Jennifer Fuller worked with the Audubon Society to understand the effects of climate change and invasive species on the rapidly declining black tern.

Jennifer collaborated closely with Detroit Audubon and Audubon Great Lakes by analyzing long-term datasets beginning in 2013 and helping collect nest survival data in the field between 2019 and 2020. Her research found that climate change-driven lake-level rise, invasive species, and coastal developments are eliminating safe nesting habitat for the black terns in Lake St. Clair.

Her work was presented through Detroit Audubon’s webinar series in December 2020 and is being incorporated into the Black Tern Conservation Initiative’s ongoing planning and priorities. Jennifer will graduate from the University of Michigan School of Environment and Sustainability in April 2021 with an master’s degree in conservation ecology.

Michigan Sea Grant is currently accepting graduate research fellowship applications for the 2022-2024 research cycle. Graduate students (M.S. or Ph.D.) are eligible for up to $50,000 in funding per fellowship, spread over one or two years. Find more information on our RFP page.

Extension educators win partnership, distinguished staff awards

Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educators Meaghan Gass and Dan O’Keefe received awards this winter that celebrate their career achievements and the power of partnership.

Meaghan GassMeaghan Gass, based in the Saginaw Bay region, received the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Division Partnership Award. The award is presented to individuals and organizations that have shown dedication and enthusiasm for developing creative and innovative approaches to recreational fisheries or protection of fisheries resources.

Michigan DNR staff celebrated Meaghan’s hard work in her region, noting that, “[I]n just a few years as a Sea Grant educator, Meaghan has built a strong network of stakeholders in the [B]ay region and is a trusted source of information for natural resources management and protection.”

Dan OKeefeDan O’Keefe, serving west Michigan, was honored with a prestigious Distinguished Academic Staff award from Michigan State University. The award celebrates academic specialists and MSU Extension staff who embody extraordinary achievement, excellence, and exceptional contributions in their field. Dan’s commitment to sharing science-based information makes him a valuable asset to recreational anglers, charter fishers, lake management agencies, and others in his seven-county district. He has launched several community science initiatives that help anglers gather vital fishery data, including the “Great Lakes Angler Diary” virtual reporting app.

As an Ottawa County Parks employee noted in support of Dan’s award nomination, “Not every educator is a research scientist and not every scientist is a true educator. However, O’Keefe is one of a few people who does both very well.”

Well done, Dan and Meaghan! We look forward to safely celebrating with you in person soon.

Clean Marina resources support boaters, protect water quality

The open waters of the Great Lakes and more than 11,000 inland lakes draw boaters from all over Michigan who want to enjoy these beautiful waters. Unfortunately, many services provided at marinas — such as boat maintenance, chemical and fuel storage, and bottom washing — produce dust, debris, and drips that fall to the ground with contaminants like heavy metals and oil. Eventually these pollutants can end up in lakes untreated, harming water quality and potentially impacting enjoyment and protection of these resources. To mitigate these challenges, Michigan Sea Grant provides a variety of tools to help boaters and marina owners/operators keep our Great Lakes waters clean and safe.

The Clean Marina Stormwater Toolkit provides marina owners with the resources they need to implement best management practices to treat and manage stormwater runoff before it enters the Great Lakes. It provides education and technical assistance to help marinas implement stormwater improvements. This decision-support toolkit helps marina owners and operators choose feasible and effective green stormwater management strategies that fit their facility.

Marina owners can also be recognized and receive additional support for their efforts. Participants in the Michigan Clean Marina Program voluntarily pledge to maintain and improve Michigan’s waterways by reducing or eliminating releases of harmful substances and phasing out practices that can damage aquatic environments. To date, more than 85 marinas have been awarded certification. Now, it’s even easier to apply to be certified with a new online system that was launched in late 2020.

In addition, marinas can potentially receive funding support to help fund some of these efforts. The Michigan Boating Pumpout Grants Program helps reduce pollution from vessel sewage discharges by encouraging safe disposal of recreational boater sewage. Public and private marinas that are open to the public can apply for grant funding to secure new pumpout and dump stations or upgrade their existing facilities. Facilities can also use grant funds to construct or renovate pumpouts and dump stations and to implement associated education programs. Applications are expected to be open in late spring 2021.

The marina and boating industries depend on clean waters and a healthy coastal environment for their continued success. These resources will help marinas and boaters in Michigan improve water quality and habitat for fish and wildlife, so the Great Lakes and inland lakes remain clean and healthy for all to enjoy.

Did you know? Michigan Sea Grant is on Instagram!

On the calendar

As we eagerly anticipate a time when we can safely gather in person, join us at these upcoming events. Keep an eye on our events page for up-to-date details and links.

  • Fishery workshop series: Our annual fishery workshops bring together lake managers, anglers, commercial fishers, and other interested folks to share the latest information about regional fisheries. All of our spring workshops will be held virtually over Zoom. Mark your calendars for Thursday nights in April: Lake Superior (April 8), Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie (April 15), Southern Lake Michigan (April 22), Lake Huron Open Water (April 22), and Lake Huron Nearshore (April 29). Visit our fishery workshops page for information about all the regional events.

  • Conversations and Coffee series: The Michigan DNR Conversations and Coffee series gives agency staff and members of the public an online space to chat about fisheries and management. Find a virtual session highlighting your region: Eastern Lake Superior (April 8), Lake Erie (April 12), Lake Michigan (April 15), Let’s Talk Fish in Lake Huron (May 6), and more. Find the full schedule and registration details on our fishery workshops page.

  • Outreach and education webinar series: Catch the remaining two webinars in our series about outreach and education, produced in partnership with Michigan Tech University. Tune in for a discussion about integrating community values and beliefs (April 13) and an informal meet-and-greet with other folks interested in building a community outreach and education network (April 27).

  • Earth Week clean-up celebration: Join the Detroit River Coalition in celebration of Earth Day by participating in COVID-friendly clean-up events happening along the Detroit River from April 17-24. There are several ways to participate: tuning into a virtual event, joining a group clean-up on April 24, or choosing a clean-up day and location that works best for you. Find all the details in this PDF.

  • Upper Peninsula spring seminar series: Learn about sustainable agriculture on April 6 in the final session of a webinar series tailored to Upper Peninsula residents.

  • Shoreline planning webinar: Coastal communities in Michigan face complex decisions when planning along the shoreline. Join “Simple Scenario-Based Planning for Shorelines,” a May 20 webinar with Tyler Augst about how coastal communities can discuss and make decisions about shoreline management. Register here.

View of Lake Superior looking up at sand dunesWe’re hiring! Research program manager position open for applications

Research Program Manager Catherine Riseng will be retiring later this year, so we’re looking for the next person to lead the research program at Michigan Sea Grant.

Reporting to the director, the person in this role will support the administrative, financial, and research functions of the organization, manage research program staff in Ann Arbor, and coordinate efforts across a variety of federal, state, and local organizations. They will guide our biannual research funding cycle and serve as a principal investigator on external competitive grants. Find the full position description here and apply before the posting closes on April 30, 2021.

Catch up on Michigan Birding 101, winter water levels webinar

Grab your binoculars and scatter some seeds — we’re going birding! Earlier this month, Eastern U.P. Extension Educator Elliot Nelson wrapped up his four-part “Michigan Birding 101” webinar series. This popular free class covered topics like using binoculars with ease, navigating bird ID resources, setting up a backyard bird feeder, identifying common spring songbirds, and more. Whether you’re dipping your toes into birding or excited to share your passions with a friend, check out Elliot’s videos in this YouTube playlist.

As snow melts and ice recedes, folks around the Great Lakes are taking stock of current lake levels and what they might mean for shoreline conditions in 2021. But what factors influence these shifting lake levels, and how did our recent winter conditions affect what’s coming this year? Northern Michigan Extension Educator Mark Breederland hosted a webinar in March about the complex dynamics of ice, evaporation, and water levels in the Great Lakes. Watch the recorded webinar.

Michigan’s science teachers network, share resources at virtual conference

Each March, the Michigan Science Teachers Association hosts a conference for educators to network with colleagues, share resources, and learn new ways to engage their students. Michigan Sea Grant is proud to help sponsor this annual event, where we usually enjoy meeting educators and sharing our resources with them in person. This year, while we couldn’t meet face-to-face, we sponsored several teachers to attend the virtual conference. Here’s what educator Sherry Claflin said about the experience:

“The MSTA Conference is a must for science teachers! Even though the conference was remote instead of face to face this year, there were quality sessions and speakers to hear from and interact with. I was specifically looking for more ways to connect and enhance the learning of my students, both in person and remote. I am encouraged to have so many colleagues willing to help with resources and ideas. I certainly appreciated the ready-to-use activities offered by so many of the sessions. I have new ideas about what my expectations are; I’m not looking for the ‘right answer’ but the creative thinking behind those answers. I know that offering my students activities on how to solve real-world problems of climate change and environmental issues will help them develop both critical and creative thinking skills.”

The Michigan Science Teachers Association is a great resource for formal and informal educators; we’re already looking forward to next year’s conference.

Bookstore relaunches with new look

Our online bookstore has reopened with a new look! We’re still offering the same selection of free and affordable brochures, posters, and books, with some items available as digital downloads for immediate access. Keep an eye out for new products on the way!

New partner study tackles Lake Erie’s “dead zone”

A recent study led by scientists at NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) found that nutrients released from lake-bottom sediment worsen the annual “dead zone” (a region of low to no oxygen) in Lake Erie and could intensify as climate warms. Learn more about the study.

Dispatches from Extension

Michigan Sea Grant Extension educators write informative articles on a variety of subjects — from winter birding tips to the effects of COVID-19 on Michigan’s commercial fishers. Here are some of their articles from the past few months.

MSU researchers engage Michigan citizen scientists in coastal monitoring and resilience efforts using drones

By Martha Gerig
Imagery, workshops, and surveys aim to help communities understand coastal hazards and erosion.

  • Read more

Farm stress teletherapy resources expanded to include Michigan’s aquaculture and commercial fishers

By Lauren Jescovitch and Eric Karbowski
Michigan fish producers can now engage in online counseling through teletherapy support, thanks to a partnership with Michigan State University Extension and Pine Rest Mental Health Services.

Taking a bite out of school lunch waste

By Brandon Schroeder and Tracy D’Augustino
Alcona Elementary fourth graders are partnering with MSU Extension to study and reduce trash generated from their lunches.

Winter birding round-up: Where to go and what to see in the Eastern U.P.

By Elliot Nelson
Extension educator Elliot Nelson dishes on the best places to see winter birds in the Eastern U.P.

Many circumstances during 2020 affected Michigan’s commercial fishing industry

By Lauren Jescovitch
Pandemic and restaurant closures, fishing regulations and legislation among challenges faced.