As 2019 winds down, IISG launches new resources to learn about the Great Lakes

December 19th, 2019 by

As 2019 draws to a close, I’m pleased to report that here at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, we’ve had a very good year, and that remained the case through the latter months.  

In October, IISG underwent its program site review, which takes place every four years. Through this process, we presented our work from our last omnibus as well as our current activities to the external site review team. The review provides a great opportunity to reflect on our accomplishments and to look forward to new efforts.

The review team was very positive in its response, which, in large part, is due to not only the hard work of the IISG team, but also the great amount of support from our diverse partners, many of whom directly participated in the review.

This fall, we expanded our communication tools and products to share information about the Great Lakes with wider audiences. Inspired by a rich collection of photographs taken by Peter Essick, who works with National Geographic, IISG led the development of a photo essay called Great Lakes Resurgence about Areas of Concern in the region. The Great Lakes Sea Grant Network collaborated to tell the stories of these degraded waterways, to describe the progress of cleanup efforts and report local impacts of coastal restoration.

IISG now has a monthly podcast series, Teach Me about the Great Lakes, which debuted in December. Hosted by Stuart Carlton, the program’s assistant director, the podcast helps Stuart—and listeners—learn about the biology, ecology and natural history of the Great Lakes. Stuart is a social scientist who grew up in the south, so he is fairly new to Great Lakes issues. The first installment dove into concerns about microplastics, which have been found in the Great Lakes and many waterways all over the world. The next episode, available in early January, will focus on the geological history of the Great Lakes.

Autumn also brought awards season for the Sea Grant program, both regionally and nationally. We are proud of Pollution Prevention Specialist Sarah Zack, who was honored with the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network Early Career Award at the regional meeting in Sault St. Marie, Michigan. Irene Miles, strategic communication coordinator, won the Communications Service Award at the Sea Grant Extension Assembly, Communicator and Research Coordinator Conference in Savannah, Georgia. Also at the Savannah meeting, Brian Miller, IISG’s former director, was selected for the William Q. Wick Visionary Career Leadership Award, one of Sea Grant’s most prestigious honors.

As we all look forward to 2020, we wish you the best in the new year. For IISG, 2020 will bring an even greater focus to Lake Michigan. Scientists from around the Great Lakes basin will converge on the lake to conduct intensive research through the Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI). IISG has just released an ESRI story map, Lake Michigan Health: A Deeper Dive, to share the results from the 2015 CSMI field year on Lake Michigan.

The Shipboard Science Workshop will also take place on Lake Michigan in the coming year. During this week-long workshop on the EPA research vessel the Lake Guardian, organized through the Center for Great Lakes Literacy, teachers from the region work side by side with scientists to study one of the Great Lakes. This coming year they set sail on Lake Michigan. We look forward to new science and stories that will emerge from both of these exciting initiatives.

Tomas Höök
Director, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant


Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

Great Lakes Sea Grant programs awarded $1 million for aquaculture collaborative

September 25th, 2019 by

Six Great Lakes Sea Grant programs have been awarded $1 million to work together on a three-year project to increase aquaculture production and sales in the region.

The Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative is one of 42 research projects and collaborative programs totaling $16 million aimed at advancing sustainable aquaculture in the United States funded by the National Sea Grant Office. The awards are dependent on the availability of federal funds.

Despite the fact that the Great Lakes comprise one of world’s largest freshwater ecosystems, aquaculture production in the region is failing to keep pace with increases in consumer demand for fish and seafood. This contributes to a national seafood trade deficit of $14 billion, second only to oil in the ranking of natural resource trade deficits. 

“Through the Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative, our goal is to lay the foundation for an environmentally responsible, competitive and sustainable aquaculture industry,” said Stuart Carlton, IISG assistant director. “And from the consumer perspective, to provide more opportunities to buy locally raised protein in the form of farm-raised fish.”

Minnesota Sea Grant will lead the collaborative, and for its part, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) will explore perceived barriers to successful aquaculture operations in the Great Lakes region. Amy Shambach, IISG aquaculture marketing outreach associate, will interview producers, food distributors, grocers, restauranteurs and other key players to provide insights that inform efforts to improve aquaculture production and marketing.

“It is vital to the growth of the aquaculture industry in the Great Lakes region to not only assess the industry’s needs but to then get that information into the hands of farmers,” said Shambach.

The Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative is funded by National Sea Grant’s Advanced Aquaculture Collaborative Program. This program seeks to build the capacity of Sea Grant and its partners to advance aquaculture in areas where a foundation of knowledge and activity currently exists but where significant barriers to sustainable domestic marine and Great Lakes aquaculture remain.

“These investments are critical to advancing United States aquaculture in sustainable, thoughtful ways using the best science and talent across the country,” said National Sea Grant Director Jonathan Pennock. “With our 2019 investments, we can address critical gaps in information, understanding and connectivity of science to industry.”

IISG was also awarded a second grant to study challenges to raising walleye in aquaculture production. “Walleye has a local identity—it has a strong association with the Midwest, is available in restaurants as a commercially caught species, and may be suitable for aquaculture,” said Kwamena Quagrainie, IISG aquaculture marketing specialist.

Currently farm-raised walleye in Illinois and Indiana is minimal. Quagrainie, along with Carlton and Purdue University researchers Robert Rode and Joseph Balagtas, are leading a working group that aims to understand the business and real-world production barriers to raising these fish in an economically sustainable manner. National Sea Grant awarded them $96,000 to find answers.

“There is reason to believe that walleye aquaculture could be a boon in the two states, but a lot of background work needs to be done to see if it is even feasible,” added Quagrainie.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

Fishing may lead to rapid changes in Great Lakes fish

August 29th, 2018 by

Evolution is often viewed through the lens of thousands of years. But it may have taken humans only a century or so to force evolutionary changes to fish in the Great Lakes, according to a Purdue University report.

Environmental factors over long periods of time often lead to beneficial traits in animals. But Tomas Höök, a professor in the Department of Forestry & Natural Resources at Purdue University and director of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, and colleagues believe there is evidence of fisheries-induced evolution (FIE) in the Great Lakes.

“Fishing and harvesting creates strong pressure that could select for certain genetic material in a fish population and lead to rapid human-induced evolution of the population,” Höök said.

A review, published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, presents the case for rapid evolution, including case studies of two important fishery species — yellow perch and lake whitefish.

For yellow perch, Lake Michigan commercial fishing operations in the early 1990s overharvested perch, in particular large female fish. This led to an abundance of male fish as well as smaller females, since they were the most likely to have an opportunity to reproduce.

After a collapse of yellow perch populations, commercial fishing for the species was shut down and recreational angling for the species was restricted. Research shows that yellow perch quickly started to sexually mature later and at larger sizes once they weren’t susceptible to harvest.

“Importantly, this research suggests that FIE can occur rapidly, but that changes are reversible,” wrote the authors, which included Erin Dunlop from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, as well as Zachary Feiner and Höök from Purdue.

Lake whitefish populations have been affected by overfishing and invasive species in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Models suggest that high harvest rates and harvesting before whitefish reach sexual maturation could lead to rapid declines in population and the size at which fish mature.

Höök said fisheries-induced evolution has been widely studied in marine systems, but more needs to be done on freshwater species since many can be important ecologically and commercially.

“We need to assess the potential for fisheries-induced evolution in these systems to better understand the extent to which fishery managers can and should think about FIE when making key management decisions affecting fish populations,” Höök said.

Lake Guardian display wins APEX Award of Excellence

July 18th, 2017 by

When a 180-foot ship marked with the words “U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY” docks on the shores of one of the Great Lakes or their connecting channels, people take notice. The research vessel Lake Guardian has incited curiosity for over 25 years as it has carried scientists across all five Great Lakes to collect and analyze samples of water, aquatic life, sediments, and air.

Last year, IISG completed a project to answer frequently asked questions about the ship and to communicate the important work done on board to monitor and protect the world’s largest surface freshwater system.

Allison Neubauer, Joel Davenport, and Kristin TePas received an APEX Award of Excellence for the colorful display they created about the R/V Lake Guardian. Easily transported and exhibited from one port to the next, the display is made up of two large posters that use graphics and accessible language to communicate key facts about the ship, such as its size and berthing capacity, and provide a glimpse into the scientific sampling processes and Great Lakes research topics that the vessel facilitates.

Since making its debut last spring the display has proven to be a hit with people drawn to the ship. In particular, the eye-catching infographics designed by Davenport have been the subject of praise.


To commemorate 50 years of Sea Grant, we look back on our humble beginnings

October 17th, 2016 by

The National Sea Grant Program is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) is looking back at its own origins through the eyes of its first leader.

In 1982, IISG had its modest beginnings as a small marine extension project, through a partnership of the University of IllinoisPurdue University, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Robert Espeseth was at the helm from 1982 through 1994. Now a retired University of Illinois professor of leisure studies, he recalled those early years as both part happenstance and part destiny.

Like a star football quarterback recalling his glory days, he shared the play-by-play of the creation of IISG.

“Jim Peterson, who had a joint appointment with Purdue and Indiana, and I were up there at a Great Lakes regional workshop for recreation specialists in 1980,” Espeseth recalled. “And one of the fellows from Michigan was getting funding out of Michigan Sea Grant, and he said, ‘Have you guys ever looked into that?’ And we said, ‘What is it?’ And he said, ‘With Illinois and Indiana not being in the program they’re anxious to complete the Great Lakes for programs covering all the shoreline.’”


And with that exchange, the pursuit to “cover the shoreline” began.

Peterson and Espeseth were both going to be in Washington, so they decided to pay a visit the National Sea Grant Office in Silver Spring, Maryland.

They arrived without an appointment, but Espeseth wasn’t going to leave without meeting the director, and he had the perfect in.

It just so happened that the National Sea Grant Program director, the late Ned Ostenso, was a coxswain in the boat Espeseth rowed during his days at the University of Wisconsin.

“’He’s really busy, he wouldn’t have time,’” Espeseth recalled being told.

“I said, ‘Just call him and tell him Bob Espeseth is here.’ So he did and Ned said, ‘Bring him on up!’”

Ostesno encouraged Espeseth and Peterson and explained how anxious he was to get Illinois and Indiana onboard, but he warned that it would be a long process.


How right he was.

Their first application in 1981 was turned down for not having a strong research component and because the two universities, Purdue and Illinois, weren’t very supportive of the Sea Grant mission. It wasn’t until 1982 that IISG finally got approved as a marine extension project.

Yet, there was still some uncertainty about the focus and direction of the program.

Initially the emphasis was on aquaculture, recreation and shoreline tourism—topics that were not as popular with other Sea Grants. IISG really took off once it added more research-focused areas like invasive species, water quality and pollutants.

The outreach staff grew from a single specialist to a team of over 20, located at universities and agencies in the two states. In 1997, IISG was awarded College Program status by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Espeseth smiled as he thought back to those early days.

“I just talked to Jim Peterson the other day and he said laughing, ‘Yeah, that was really a shot in the dark!’ But at the behest of our compatriot up there in Michigan, that’s how it got started.”

El Niño bring the hope of a mild winter

November 9th, 2015 by

While this year’s strong El Niño may play havoc in other parts of the country and the world, in the Great Lakes region it’s likely that we won’t need to talk about the polar vortex and the “snowpocalypse” this winter.

The Climate Prediction Center at NOAA is forecasting an increased chance of above-normal temperatures and a greater chance for below-normal precipitation across most of the Great Lakes region this winter.


“This does not mean that cold weather will not happen this winter,” said Molly Woloszyn, IISG climate specialist. “But typical extreme cold weather may be milder and less frequent.”


An El Niño develops when sea surface temperatures are warmer than average in the equatorial Pacific for an extended period of time. This year’s version is already considered to be strong and likely to become a bit stronger. Although each El Niño is different, they offer some predictable patterns.


Unlike the past two winters when heavy snow and bitter cold were the norm, if warmer conditions do occur this winter, this may mean less ice cover on the lakes. It might also mean reduced snowpack accumulation and therefore, less runoff into the lakes, which is a major contributor to lake levels.


Also, less lake ice means more evaporation off the lake surfaces. “Since the lakes are mostly at above average levels right now, this could lead to a return to normal water levels,” said Woloszyn.


Mild winters can have many positives impacts in the region. They are typically good for the economy (unless you are in the snow business)—heating costs go down, transportation runs smoother, and retail sales pick up. And they are generally good for agriculture, although some crop pests are more likely to survive the winter.


You can find this and more information in a special edition of the Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook develop by NOAA, the Midwestern Regional Climate Center, Environment Canada, and other partners.

-Irene Miles


From cruise to classroom: Educators learn from scientists aboard Lake Michigan ship

July 9th, 2015 by

Fifteen educators from six states surrounding the Great Lakes are getting the chance to be scientists in the field – or rather water – during this year’s Shipboard Science Workshop in Lake Michigan on the Lake Guardian, the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) research vessel. The annual workshop will take place the week of July 12-18 and is hosted by  Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG).

The teachers, alongside four research scientists from U.S. EPA GLNPO, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Loyola University Chicago, will take part in sampling to evaluate the presence of microplastics and assess the impact of aquatic invasive species, especially zebra and quagga mussels.

And as part of the workshop, teachers will be able to analyze the samples in on-board laboratories. The hope is that the teachers will take their experiences back to the classroom and inspire their own students to want to do scientific exploration of the Great Lakes.

This workshop is IISG community outreach specialist Kristin TePas’ fifth, and she never tires of seeing teachers learning and researching in the field.

“Aside from the concept of educators working side by side with scientists collecting and analyzing data, these cruises have a lot of variation from year to year because the scientists change and thus the focus of research taking place is often different,” TePas said.

“I always look forward to watching how the educators take to the whole experience. They come on rather green and leave at the end of the week looking like they have always lived on the ship and working like a well-oiled machine with the field sampling and then analyzing in the lab.”

Bonnie Sansenbaugher, a teacher from last year’s workshop on Lake Erie, made sure she took advantage of the experience and didn’t return to her classroom empty-handed.

“As we were covering the curriculum portion of the workshop I was making notes of which lessons I will use for which class and which month I will cover that topic,” she wrote on the Center for Great Lakes Literacy blog. 

On July 12, the ship will set sail from Milwaukee, with stops in Manitowoc, WI on the 14th, and Frankfort, MI on the 16th. This year, four educators from Illinois and two from Indiana will be making the trip.

Teachers will be tweeting and blogging on this cruise as well. Look for them on twitter at #lakeguardian and on the Teacher Features page on the CGLL website.

Each year a different lake within the world’s largest freshwater system goes under the microscope for this kind of intensive look-see. Next year it’s Lake Superior’s turn.

This workshop is funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Wisconsin Sea Grant was a key partner in planning this year’s event.

-Abigail Bobrow

For a future pharmacist, pollution prevention is key

June 16th, 2015 by

By Anne Packard (Anne is a summer intern working with Laura Kammin, IISG pollution prevention specialist)

Can pharmacists play a role in pollution control? This is the question I asked myself when I heard about an internship through Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. 

As a third year student at Purdue University College of Pharmacy, I became interested in this internship because of my love for the Great Lakes. I am a western Michigan native, so the freshwater lakes are dear to my heart. At a young age, I took advantage of all the benefits living close to Lake Michigan can provide. I have fond memories of sailing, watching the sunset, and building sand castles on the beach.

During the school year, being a pharmacy student feels like a 24 hour a day job. The amount of time spent studying and thinking about pharmacy related topics is quite demanding. I have to love what I study. The pollution prevention internship is a great way for me integrate two key facets of my life—my pharmaceutical knowledge and my love of the environment and the Great Lakes.

My role with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is to help with education in the community with regards to medication pollution and disposal. Another major aspect that ties in my pharmacy experience will be to educate people about the consequences for misuse, accidental poisonings and abuse of unused medication. I also am working with a Purdue College of Pharmacy professor to organize data to better understand the needs in the Lafayette area related to medication take back programs. 

Even in the few weeks since starting, my knowledge base on medication pollution has expanded substantially. By the end of this summer I hope to take the knowledge I have gained and apply it in my future career as a pharmacist. Through this experience I want to be knowledgeable about the resources available for proper medication disposal as well as tools to implement safe disposal practices wherever my career takes me. 
As with all student interns, there is always a dream of making a difference in the job they are in. Although, I do not expect to make groundbreaking changes, I hope I can help my community take a step in the right direction to minimize pharmaceutical pollution in the environment.

Species Spotlight: Red swamp crayfish

May 28th, 2015 by

INVASIVE SPECIES EDITION—Where we take a moment to explore the species that threaten the Great Lakes region.

The most widely introduced crayfish in the world, this crustacean is a jack of all trades, a species used by humans more than any we’ve covered so far. The red swamp crayfish is present on every continent but Australia and Antarctica, and it has a role in everything from research and education to fishing baiteven acting as a biological control in Africa to eliminate snails that are key to the life cycle of schistomiasis, a disease that can cause liver damage, infertility, and bladder cancer. However it is probably most well known as a dish, served on plates the world over, with almost 50,000 tons harvested each year in the U.S. alone.

But for all their use, red swamp crayfish still represent a threat to many ecosystems. Native to the warm still waters of the southeastern United States, they have been found as far northwest as Washington, and have established populations up and down the east and west coasts, as well as Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Commonly sold in pet stores, some of the spread can be contributed to careless release from private aquariums. But to the red swamp crayfishs’ credit, they are perfectly capable of spreading themselves, crossing miles of dry land from waterbody to waterbody, especially during wet seasons. And once they’ve established themselves, they’re almost impossible to eradicate.

A true survivor, the red swamp crayfish will dig chimney-like burrows into stream beds to cope with changing water levels, and be able to live in them for up to four months. Unlike most crayfish which are herbivores, it has been known to eat the eggs of fish and other crustaceans as well as snails, tadpoles, and small fish and amphibians in addition to plants. It can tolerate slightly brackish water,(another trait not shared with many other crayfish) and can grow quickly in small amounts of water up to about five inches long and weighing up to 50 grams. All these attributes combine to make an animal that out-competes native crayfish, and causes stream-bank erosion by loosening up sediment with its burrows, resulting in higher turbidity and destroyed crustacean and insect nesting beds.

Currently there are no prescribed methods to remove red swamp crayfish from invaded waterbodies. In many states they are illegal to transport, and people are encouraged to report any sightings. 

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