Living lab takes shape on Superior waterfrontAn environmental SWAT team is assembling in Superior. Using information and education, staff at the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve hope to positively impact the area and help people understand the consequences of their actions.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
An environmental SWAT team is assembling in Superior. Using information and education, staff at the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve hope to positively impact the area and help people understand the consequences of their actions.
“This is not a spectator sport,” said Reserve Manager Ralph Garono. And, despite the fact that the buildings that will house the reserve were just purchased last week, it’s already game on for staff members.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration designated the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve in 2010 to serve as a site for research and education about the freshwater estuary where the St. Louis River flows into Lake Superior. It encompasses about 16,697 acres of wetland and aquatic habitats, including Wisconsin Point, Pokegama Bay and the Red River Breaks. This living laboratory is rife for research on the effects everyday choices have on the environment. The NERR’s current staff of six — and three local college students — are busy making plans for the site, connecting out-of-area researchers with the NERR’s possibilities and learning what questions the community wants answered. This is not just an academic pursuit.
“We’re here not only to do science, but to listen to the community,” Garono said.
The NERR is about real-life situations and solutions. Reserve research could discover how effective energy sources like geothermal and solar are in the area, provide information on whether mowing beside roadways affects wildlife movement or the spread of invasive species, analyze project costs to fill in or create replacement wetlands and even answer the grocery store dilemma — paper or plastic.
“We don’t really manage resources, we manage people’s behavior so they value the resources in the community,” Garono said. “Our job here is to make these connections for people.
“Every action has a consequence.”
As the research develops, it will be focused on not just the environment, but on the sociology and economy of the area.
“We would like to reach out to industry here, our partner in the port area,” Garono said, to try new ideas and see how they work.
The NERR is already making connections. An Ohio professor is looking for a field site to develop a ballast water treatment that uses filtration instead of chemicals. A corrosion management program is considering the estuary as a research site.
“Our job at the NERR is to link researchers from out of the area with ones here and get some synergism,” Garono said. Bringing in national and international researchers and their grant dollars to the area is just one perk of the reserve. It also offers college students and residents a chance to interact one-on-one with scientists, get hands-on science experience and learn about future career possibilities.
Getting a NERR — one of only 28 in the nation and only the second freshwater estuary — in Superior is a real “feather in our cap,” Garono said, and it is a long-term commitment. The NERR and its community partners have a 30-year lease for land on Barker’s Island. This year, the former Boathouse restaurant will be renovated to house offices and labs. Once that is completed, the former Vista Landing shop will open as a visitor center and educational facility. The site may even house a meteorological station. Buoys with water quality instrumentation that checks water temperature, nutrient information and dissolved oxygen statistics will be installed throughout the estuary and connected to the internet. That way, people can make informed decisions based on the data available.
The world is a web to Garono.
“When I look out there I see links between all these different things and attach importance to them,” he said. The goal of the NERR is to help others see those same links.
Members of the public interested in more information on the NERR can look up the website at lsnerr.uwex.edu or email Garono at email@example.com.
The reserve will be involved in a number of public events this year, including Lake Superior Day in July and National Estuary Day in the fall. Once more people are on board, hikes and kayak trips will also be offered.
A nonprofit NERR friends group will kick off this spring, offering members of the public a place to plug in to the work being done.
Partners in the reserve include the University of Wisconsin-Superior, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, city of Superior, Douglas County and the University of Wisconsin Extension. Also involved in the project are the Wisconsin and Minnesota Sea Grant programs, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Wisconsin Coastal Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the U. S. Coast Guard.