Lake research station to be shut down in early 2013
Researchers at the Experimental Lakes Area surgically implant a tracking device into a Northern Pike as to gather information on the fishes preferred habitat.
MUSKOKA SUN - A research station in Northern Ontario is being shuttered, and Muskoka water advocates say the effect will be felt here.
The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is located near Kenora, but experts say the data from the research facility has been instrumental in protecting the Muskoka region. A natural laboratory, the ELA consists of 58 small lakes. Its primary purpose is to enable researchers to conduct whole-lake experiments.
Scientists say that, since the facility was started in 1967, data gained from research there has contributed to the understanding of a large variety of environmental stressors. Today, the ELA is on the verge of being shutdown as a result of the cuts in the latest federal budget.
Judi Brouse, director of watershed programs with the Muskoka Watershed Council, said several experiments have helped create development policy in Muskoka.
“It’s very synergistic, what’s happening in the experimental lakes, because they have top-notch scientists from around the world working there and finding out so much about our lakes. It’s very important to us,” said Brouse. “Any information that’s going to help us manage them is very important, not just because it’s our environment, but because it’s our economy and our social life.”
For example, research at the facility on the effect of phosphorous on lakes led to policies that removed the chemical from laundry detergent. Adding phosphorous to a lake is a major cause of algal blooms which can be a significant problem for cottagers who want to enjoy a dip in the lake.
“We know how important it is for us in Muskoka to have lakes that don’t have algae in them. That one experiment, which led to taking phosphorous out of laundry detergent, cleaned Lake Erie,” Brouse said. “It was also the basis for our lakeshore capacity study, which is the basis of our planning policy in Muskoka.”
Research at the ELA was used to craft the international legislation on smoke stack emissions that was written in response to the problems caused by acid rain. More recent studies conducted at the ELA involved the effects of mercury and endocrine disruptors on fish populations.
Tony Clement, MP for Parry Sound Muskoka and President of the Treasury Board, said the lakes have served their purpose. “If there’s something important to research, then it’s usually up to the universities to decide that,” he said. He said if the government receives a reasonable proposal for the lakes, they will accept it.
He added that the research that affected Muskoka was done years ago and what is currently being done no longer benefits the lakes in this area.
One of the reasons his government withdrew funding this year was because the research pertains more to niche issues, he said, stating there are other programs dealing with some of the major issues that impact this area.
Others strongly disagree, saying the lakes continue to have an important role to play.
Peter Sale, a retired marine biologist and the authour of Our Dying Planet, said one of the ongoing studies at the ELA involves fish farming.
“How dense can the fish be in the pens that are constructed in a fish farm before it starts to impact the lake in a negative way? That’s the type of question that we need scientific answers for,” Sale said. “You can’t get those answers by snapping your fingers and asking someone with some science training to write a report. There’s got to be some data first.”
As climate change continues to be an environmental factor, Sale said, the ELA will become even more important. The potential data gained from the facility can be particularly useful for Muskoka.
“We have an economy which is very dependent on the quality of our environment. Our environment, much like northwestern Ontario, contains an abundance of lakes, streams wetlands and rocky land. This system, that is typical of the experimental lakes region, relates very directly to us. Things that are learned in that area can be applied fairly easily here.”
Several scientists have come out in opposition to the shutdown of the facility. Some have pointed out that returning the site to its natural state would cost millions. Others have argued that the ELA is a unique research centre, and there is no comparable location.
In explaining its reasons for cutting funding to the ELA, the federal government has said it will save Canadians money, that comparable facilities exist elsewhere and that the work being done at the ELA is no longer scientifically productive.
Sale said that removing the funding for the ELA is one of several decisions made by the federal government to scientific facilities.
“One has to wonder if the real reason for closing it down is that the science it provides is inconvenient to a government that is refusing to admit our climate is changing,” said Sale.
Regardless of the motives, at present time, the ELA is scheduled to be closed by March 2013. Those hoping to prevent the facility’s shutdown have started a petition and set up a website at www.saveela.org.
For more information on the Experimental Lakes Area visit their website at www.experimentallakesarea.ca.