Thursday, August 10, 2023

Announcement: Blog transition

Hello from Michigan Sea Grant (MISG) and the editorial staff behind this blog. We're grateful to all the previous MISG-affiliated fellows and interns who have contributed their insights and reflections to this blog since 2008. We're beginning to transition fellow and intern posts into MISG's online Newsroom. This site will remain active as an archive, and some previously published content will also be added to the Newsroom. We will also create a dedicated archive page on our website to make it easier to find fellow and intern posts in one place. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to see when new posts go live!

If you have any questions about the content transition, please contact

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Join us for a day on the S/V Steelhead!

Editor's note: This post was jointly written by 2023 interns Hadley VandeVusse and Ava Tackabury. Photo credits go to Ava Tackabury.

Hi! My name is Hadley VandeVusse, and I am a rising senior at the University of Michigan. I am majoring in Earth and Environmental Sciences with a minor in Oceanography. After completing my formal education, I plan to attend graduate school and pursue a career as an environmental scientist with a focus on freshwater or marine ecosystems, working at either the federal or local level. Some of my research interests include population dynamics, acidification, ecosystem services, community structure, and microbial ecology. During the school year, I work under Gregory Dick as a research assistant in the microbiology lab at the University of Michigan. I primarily focus on researching Microcystis-dominated harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Lake Erie with the goal of furthering our understanding of bloom dynamics.

Hadley VandeVusse

This summer I was given the opportunity to work with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) on a research project studying Lake Trout population dynamics in Northern Lake Michigan. The study involves the use of acoustic telemetry to track the movement of the fish. It is necessary to gather more information about the movement ecology of Lake Trout for effective fisheries management. If we know what habitat fish like to occupy and how they traverse across areas it allows us to better implement harvest limits, refuge boundaries, and so much more. I am so lucky to be able to work on such an interesting project with an amazing team and in one of the most beautiful places in the country.

Ava Tackabury

My name is Ava Tackabury and I am studying Earth & Environmental Sciences and Anthropology at the University of Michigan. I connected with Michigan Sea Grant earlier this year and am now stationed in Charlevoix, MI for a summer internship with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). Throughout my academic and personal journey so far, I have found that my interests lie where the natural and anthropogenic worlds become entangled—where species meet. It was this intrigue that drew me to my current research project, a multi-faceted approach to understanding the potential for future Lake Whitefish river spawning in Lake Michigan tributaries. Historically, Lake Whitefish used to travel upstream in Lake Michigan tributaries to lay their eggs each fall. Following mass habitat destruction from 19th-century logging and damming activity, however, there has been a dramatic Lake Whitefish population decline including the near loss of river spawners. Through our research, we seek a better understanding of the remaining river spawning habitat potential for Lake Whitefish so that future efforts can help to reestablish these historic spawning runs. Working with all of my project partners (MDNR, WDNR, The Nature Conservancy, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians) has been a pleasure and I have quickly fallen in love with all that northern Michigan has to offer.


This summer, we have also been able to participate in several research projects currently being conducted at the Charlevoix Fisheries Research Station. A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to accompany our boat crew on the S/V Steelhead, Michigan DNR's survey vessel in Charlevoix, during the annual Lakewide Assessment Plan (LWAP). Each year, the Steelhead studies adult yellow perch, lake whitefish, lake trout, Chinook salmon, and forage fish populations at a few Lake Michigan ports. The sampling year begins with the spring gill net survey in a collaborative assessment with other Lake Michigan agencies. Since 1997, the LWAP survey has provided MDNR with a comprehensive understanding of the status of adult Lake Michigan fish populations through a multispecies focus.

Click the links for more information on SV Steelhead Assessment Work or a video detailing SV Steelhead Bottom Gillnetting. Photo: Ava Tackabury


6:00 am:

We started the day bright and early. At the research station before heading to port, we gathered our gear— personal floatation devices (PFDs), bibs, coats, boots, and lined gloves. We then loaded all of the coolers with ice to prepare them for fish collection later on. Once everything was loaded and ready to go, we hopped in the truck excited for the day ahead. It was a short drive from the station to the port where the Steelhead awaited our arrival. We quickly transferred all of our gear and the coolers onto the boat, untied the lines, and headed through the Pine River channel into Lake Michigan.

8:00 am:

Our destination was just north of the Charlevoix port, where the crew had set gill nets a day prior, so we had a little time to relax before the grunt work began. During the ride, we enjoyed some yummy donuts under the sun. We traveled until we could see our first buoy (marked by a red flag) that indicated the start of a gill net before springing into action. 

9:00 am:

Once we reached the first buoy, the captain skillfully aligned the vessel with the gill net. A gill net is a wall of netting that hangs in the water column designed to allow fish to get only their head through the netting, but not their body. Using the lift machinery in the hull of the boat, we were able to pull in the gill net catch for sample collection. As the nets were rolled up into the vessel, we had to work quickly alongside the crew to untangle the large adult fish from the net.

Hadley: “Just when you thought you had them untangled from the nets, they would decide to wiggle around and you were back to ground zero again.”

Suckers, Lake Trout, and Lake Whitefish made up the majority of our catch (though we did manage to score one Burbot). We placed the fish in designated bins correlated with the specific mesh size and net depth at which they were caught. The crew said that the amount of fish we caught was a typical light catch, but the fact we pulled up that many in one day still astounded us.

12:00 pm:

Once we finished pulling all the gill nets, set the day prior, we moved the fish to the stern, loaded them into coolers, and put them on ice. Then, we brought the fish coolers into the wet lab where we “worked-up” the fish, taking various measurements and samples to be sent to the labs for later analysis. We took size measurements, coded wire tagged snouts, stomachs, otoliths, and maxillaries for all the fish, depending on the species and algorithm count requirements per species. To ensure the fish were not completely wasted after being sampled, we filleted and bagged the fish to give to the local community. Fresh Lake Trout is even more delicious when it benefits the scientific world.

3:00 pm:

After taking all of the required fish samples, we ended the day cleaning everything. All coolers, mats, counters, scales, and floors were scrubbed and hosed down. We also cleaned out the whole gill net lift room in the hull of the vessel as we pulled up a lot of zebra and quagga mussels that made quite a mess. Finally, after all the cleaning was complete and a quick snack break, it was time to cap off the day. Tiredly, we unloaded all the equipment off the boat and headed home, both of us satisfied with our work from the day.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Tracking Didymo with Rae Mckechnie

Hello! My name is Raven (Rae) Mckechnie and I am currently a double major at Lake Superior State University (LSSU). I am majoring in Animal Biology (Animal Health concentration) and Marketing with an E-Marketing certification. After graduation, I plan on continuing my education by attending graduate school. I am interested in a career that combines my passions for aquatic research, animal rehabilitation, and conservation and management of freshwater ecosystems. Last summer, I had the privilege to work for my tribe’s environmental department with the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, where I was able to learn about invasive species management and removal while assisting on clearing efforts of active dangerous invasive plants. I am also continuing to strengthen my knowledge about aquatic research through my current employment at Lake Superior State University’s Center for Freshwater Research and Education. It is here that I am fortunate to be able to conduct my senior research with my mentor Dr. Ashley Moerke on Didymosphenia geminata (hereafter, Didymo) through the Center for Freshwater Research and Education as well where I can tie in my previous experience with invasive species and their effect on the ecosystem and fisheries industry into my research and overarching career goals. 

Didymo is an invasive algae that has been detected in the St. Marys River since 2015. Didymo is a threat to the environment because the dense mats that it forms alter habitat availability and light penetration and thus biodiversity and lead to a decrease in available food sources for fish. These dense mats can also cause economic issues impacting the fishing industry by their stalk material getting caught and ruining fishing lures and boat motors. 

A clump of Didymo prepared for an experiment. Photo: Rae Mckechnie

There is no current method available for management of Didymo. The main method of control against this invasive species is through prevention of the continued spread of Didymo. This species of diatom can be spread through contaminated water and fishing equipment and boats that carry microscopic Didymo cells to other water bodies if unwashed. Since the main method of control is stopping its spread, the importance of being able to map and detect this invasive species prevalence early on is ever-pressing.

The basis of my senior research project is to determine the threshold level and sensitivity of environmental DNA (eDNA) testing for Didymo detection in Michigan waters. Since the sampling of Didymo with eDNA is a novel practice, there aren’t any established guidelines available. My project began by using eDNA methods established by a previous study (Cary et al. 2014). However, existing methods do not establish how the likelihood of detection of Didymo using eDNA would vary depending on the extent of Didymo populations, or the distance from the source of Didymo. The goal of my study is to understand, in a controlled environment, how eDNA “signals” differ under different distances and population sizes to enhance the interpretation of eDNA data. This is accomplished by sampling several sites spaced downstream from the main rapids in St. Marys River, a known Didymo infestation site, to determine the ability of the eDNA technology to detect Didymo at varying distances from a known positive source.

Collecting water samples in the St. Marys River. Photo: Rae Mckechnie

Nicknamed "gumby suits," orange immersion suits keep researchers safe and warm during shipboard sampling runs. Photo: Rae Mckechnie

Sample bottled up and ready to take to the lab. Photo: Rae Mckechnie

Didymo cells under the microscope. Photo: Rae Mckechnie

This summer I am also testing the effect of Didymo abundance on eDNA sample concentrations by utilizing a stream simulation system (outdoor experimental stream lab) and differing concentrations of positive samples of Didymo. This will help me understand if eDNA results are sensitive to changes in Didymo abundance and what is the threshold at which we can detect Didymo using eDNA. By researching the effect of the variables of eDNA samples, sampling guidelines can be formulated to better determine the concentration and source of Didymo in the St. Marys River and other tributaries. This information can then further be used to map positive Didymo samples in GIS software to map where it has been found and the resulting concentrations. Thus, helping aid in prevention of the spread, by knowing where Didymo is, we can more effectively work towards stopping its spread.

Didymo clumps resting in experimental stream lab channels. Photo: Rae Mckechnie 

Water flows through each stream channel for collection and analysis. Photo: Rae Mckechnie

Clumps of Didymo ready to do their part for science. Photo: Rae Mckechnie


Works Cited:

Cary, S. C., Coyne, K. J., Rueckert, A., Wood, S. A., Kelly, S., Gemmill, C. E. C., Vieglais, C., & Hicks, B. J. (2014). Development and validation of a quantitative PCR assay for the early detection and monitoring of the invasive diatom Didymosphenia Geminata. Harmful Algae, 36, 63–70.