Belle Isle: Front line in invasive species battle

Battle lines in the fight against invasive species have been drawn on Belle Isle, Michigan's newest state park, and the movement is in full force. The public is invited to learn more and get involved! On October 11, 2014, new exhibits, talks, self-guided trails, and information about efforts to remove the invaders from Belle Isle and the Great Lakes will be officially opened at the Belle Isle Aquarium and the Belle Isle Nature Zoo.

The project to remove four invasive plant species from Belle Isle is funded through a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Friends of the Detroit River (FDR) is collaborating with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Belle Isle Conservancy, Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, Wayne State University, Michigan Sea Grant and others to control populations of invasive plants on the island and to inform the public about how future invasions of aquatic plants and animals can be prevented. Throughout the Great Lakes, non-native, invasive species out-compete native species and degrade important aquatic habitats. But the battle to manage these unwanted species has begun on Belle Isle. "We are pleased to be furthering our partnerships and work on Belle Isle following our successful habitat enhancement projects at the Blue Heron Lagoon and the South Fishing Pier," said David Howell, chairman of the Friends of the Detroit River.

This past summer, the project mapped terrestrial invasive plants all over the island park. According to Sam Lovall, FDR project manager, "Now that we know where these plants are located, we've begun removal work, focusing on four of the worst offenders, Phragmites, reed canary grass, purple loosestrife, and Japanese knotweed." The "grand opening" event at the Belle Isle Aquarium and Belle Isle Nature Zoo on October 11 will feature new educational exhibits to help island visitors understand what is being done and how they can stop the spread of invasive species where they live. Many of the exhibits were designed by a team headed by Dr. Jeffrey Ram, a scientist from Wayne State University who chairs the Aquarium's Science and Education Advisory Board and does research at the Aquarium. Ram and his students are often seen climbing in and out of tanks, mounting exhibits, or fishing for invasive species for displays at the Aquarium. He invites the public to "come see our new exhibit on northern snakehead, a carnivorous fish that can breathe air and walk over land. The snakehead is just one example of a dangerous invasive species that we hope to keep out of the Great Lakes."

The snakehead - an impressive 30-inch long model - joins models of Asian carp, and 3D prints of killer shrimp and spiny water fleas along with live displays of zebra mussels, white perch, round gobies and sea lamprey, designed to inform about ways to stop or slow future invasions. New technology about invasive species DNA and detecting them in ships' ballast water is also on display.

The "grand opening" events at the Aquarium on October 11 will begin at 12 noon with a talk about sea lamprey by Steve Chang, from the University of Detroit Mercy. Ribbon cutting events will be held at 12:40 p.m. and again at 1:40 p.m. Chang will also talk about sea lamprey at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. At the Belle Isle Nature Zoo, the focus is on invasive plants and the island-wide invasive species removal efforts. In addition to new displays inside the Nature Zoo, an interpretive trail map will guide visitors to outdoor locations where invasive species are growing. The public is invited to visit the "front lines" of the battle, to search for many of the more than 20 non-native, invasive species on the island, and to come back many times to assess the progress of the project.

Published: Thu, Oct 02, 2014


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