Program People News

New Lake Superior Office Agent to Focus on Climate and Tourism

When Natalie Chin came to Superior, Wis., for her job interview with Sea Grant, the location struck a chord with her.

“There’s something about the place that made it feel like it could be home,” she said. “I like being close to the water. Superior and Duluth seem like interesting places – there’s a lot to do and a lot going on.”

Chin, who earned her Ph.D. from Purdue University in agricultural and biological engineering, started in August as a climate and tourism outreach specialist. The post interested her because she wants to connect decision-makers with useful scientific information.

“I was looking for a position like this one where there was a heavy emphasis on community engagement, but I could still be connected with the science. I wanted to try to help people in the community – business owners and government folks – understand and use science for good policy.”

Her new job will expand on her Ph.D. work, which explored the potential impacts of climate change on tourism in the Great Lakes. Her work focused mainly on Lake Michigan, and Chin is excited to continue it and learn more about Lake Superior, as well.

The four northern Wisconsin counties (Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland and Iron) will be her focus. She plans to assess community needs first, and expects that could take some time.

“I’m focused on creating actionable science – science that’s informed by stakeholders and responsive to their needs, and also involves their input. There’s a lot of opportunities to do that,” Chin said.

Chin’s passion for science and the environment started young and was honed during her academic career. She grew up in Virginia and by fifth grade, had joined a “save the manatee” club.

“My parents instilled environmental values in me and my two younger sisters,” Chin said. “We all have that proclivity toward caring for the environment.”

She went to the University of Maryland, earning her bachelor’s in biological resource engineering. During an internship in Washington, D.C., for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, she became aware of the need for people who can work at the intersection of science and policy-making.

“That just really stuck with me,” Chin said. “I saw it as a good place for me to be in terms of the work I do and wanting to make a difference for the environment.” This led her to pursue her master’s in public policy at George Mason University.

In addition to the environment, Chin has an interest in data science.

“I see potential for using scientific datasets and using scientific analysis and data availability to create decision-support tools related to climate and tourism that would be of interest to people broadly across the Great Lakes, but also in the tourism sector. It seems like an opportunity to engage with tribal communities and new communities, which is something I’m excited about. Seeing how it all evolves over the next year will be fun and I’m sure a bit challenging,” Chin said.

“It feels like a dream job, and I’m excited that I get to stay connected to the Great Lakes,” she said.

And Wisconsin Sea Grant is excited to have her!

To contact Chin, call (715) 399-4083 or email her at nchin5@aqua.wisc.edu.

--MEZ



Adapting Wisconsin’s inland lakes to climate change: WRI funds aid discussion, publication

Wisconsin’s abundant inland lakes form a significant part of our state’s identity, economy and how residents and visitors alike relax and have fun.

However, like the Great Lakes that border Wisconsin, inland lakes — of which Wisconsin has more than 15,000 — face threats due to climate change. Funding from the University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute (WRI) helped convene a workshop with 48 expert attendees who discussed the latest scientific advances and adaptation strategies for Wisconsin lakes facing climate change.

The workshop took place in January 2018 near Tomahawk, Wis., at Treehaven, a conference facility owned by UW-Stevens Point. Attendees — a mix of researchers, outreach specialists and natural resource managers — represented 16 organizations and a range of professional disciplines. The results of that Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts lake adaptation workshop have been distilled into an article in the journal Lake and Reservoir Management. go.wisc.edu/576gq5

Said Jennifer Hauxwell, associate director of the University of Wisconsin Aquatic Sciences Center, which houses WRI, “Our mission at the Water Resources Institute is to promote research, education and outreach to effectively confront water resources problems. In this case, we were able to bring people together to help understand the impacts of climate change to 15,000 of Wisconsin’s true water treasures, our inland lakes.”

Hauxwell is one of the journal article’s authors, along with Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Specialist Tim Campbell. The paper’s lead author is Madeline R. Magee, Great Lakes and Mississippi River Monitoring Coordinator at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. At the time of the workshop, Magee was completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the UW-Madison Center for Limnology.

Said Magee, “While lakes can look simple on the surface, the ecology under the water can be complicated. It’s not an easy task to understand how lakes might be affected by climate and develop approaches to reduce those negative impacts. We needed to pull together a variety of perspectives and expertise to develop a holistic approach for managing lakes in response to our changing climate.”

The paper’s 13 authors looked at the big-picture question of how best to understand and adapt to climate impacts on inland lakes by focusing on four key categories: lake levels, water quality, aquatic invasive species and fisheries.

One important takeaway is that there is not a “one size fits all” approach when thinking about lakes and climate change. The effects of climate change may look very different from one lake to another due to a complex interplay of factors.

Some of the factors that scientists have already observed with regard to climate change are a loss of winter ice cover, warming water temperatures, changes in water levels and fish populations and increasingly frequent harmful algal blooms, to name a few examples.

While focusing on what the latest science indicates and best practices for moving forward, the article does not neglect the human dimension of Wisconsin’s climate challenges. As the paper concludes, communities themselves must be agents of change.

Said Hauxwell, “Scientists can help people understand how various aspects of a lake might respond to changes in climate, what to plan for and what options might minimize impacts. However, it takes community involvement to determine what outcomes are desirable and what actions they are willing to take to achieve those outcomes.”

In addition to the journal article, Magee also developed a “Climate Wisconsin 2050” pamphlet to reach a more general audience. It is available for download online and examines the same broad areas covered in the Lake and Reservoir Management article. go.wisc.edu/210y4f

--JAS




Growing aquaculture and science literacy

In Wisconsin, the word “farming” may first call to mind images of dairy cows or cornfields. But across the globe, the fastest-growing segment of agriculture is aquaculture.

As the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states on its website, aquaculture now accounts for nearly 50 percent of the world's food fish.

As a result of this growth, career opportunities for students with aquaculture training are abundant. The industry’s rise also makes it highly relevant for K-12 teachers seeking to incorporate hands-on science learning in their classrooms.

Aquaculture Outreach Specialist Emma Wiermaa is enthusiastic about educational and professional opportunities in the field. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility (UWSP NADF), based in Bayfield, and Wisconsin Sea Grant jointly fund her efforts.

Aquaculture education is a major component of Wiermaa’s work. To connect with others eager to advance K-12 students’ learning about the subject, she traveled to Maryland in July to attend the first-ever Sea Grant Aquaculture Education Network Summit.

Said Wiermaa, “It was so impactful to meet all these educators who share the same mission to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts through aquaculture. Teachers—especially agriculture teachers—get excited about it, and students love the hands-on learning.”

In addition to teaching important scientific concepts, workforce development is another reason to introduce aquaculture principles in K-12 settings, said Wiermaa.

“Career opportunities in aquaculture are immense right now,” she said. Students with an interest in fish biology and fisheries may not know about aquaculture jobs, gravitating instead to roles that are more visible or familiar, such as in state management agencies or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “We can help these students learn about opportunities they never even knew existed.”

The business community and Wisconsin’s economy stand to benefit from enhanced aquaculture education, too, Wiermaa said.

“A limiting factor for a lot of businesses starting up is that there are not a lot of graduates out there with significant experience behind them, especially for management roles. These aquaculture businesses need an experienced workforce” to thrive, she noted.

Brandon Gottsacker is president of Wisconsin-based Superior Fresh, located in Hixton, Wis., which is the world’s largest aquaponics facility.

Gottsacker can attest to the need for skilled employees: “Aquaculture and aquaponic systems are extremely complex, and they require qualified staff to operate the systems effectively. Unfortunately, there are very few trained or experienced people available to the industry today, forcing Superior Fresh and similar companies to spend a lot of energy training people in-house.”

While there are some teacher guides available, Wisconsin does not yet have a standard curriculum for aquaculture. The summit held in Maryland exposed Wiermaa to different curricular formats, and the varying backgrounds of attendees enriched the experience.

Wiermaa’s next steps include continuing to work with colleagues she met in Maryland to build a network of collaborators. She also wants to reach out even more widely to Wisconsin educators to let them know that Wisconsin Sea Grant and UWSP NADF are a resource they can call upon in order to teach aquaculture concepts in the classroom.

From teachers to fish farmers, there is a lot of support for aquaculture in the classroom and the development of robust, hands-on curricular materials, said Wiermaa. “Everybody wants this to happen because it’s both STEM education and workforce development.”

To learn more, contact Wiermaa at ewiermaa@uwsp.edu or visit aquaculture.uwsp.edu.

--JAS




Bringing Back the Bay Tour, the PCB Edition

The 6th annual Bringing Back the Bay Tour, conducted in Green Bay in September, shone a light on the 15-year, $1.2 billion cleanup of toxic PCB-laden sediments in the Fox River, which flows into Green Bay. Sea Grant Water Quality Specialist Julia Noordyk planned the event, along with other members of a group known as the Clean Bay Backers. State and local elected officials, conservation groups and those with state and federal management agencies, numbering about 75 people, attended and viewed dredging operations from the river itself while on a boat tour that also featured short talks on the health of the river. Attendees then visited the facility that is removing PCBs from sediment polluted with the chemical that was used to make carbonless copy paper before it was banned in 1979.    




Practicing “Life Release” Safely

Although a Buddhist practice known as “life release” may not be a widespread activity in the United States, it can have environmental implications when it does occur. In this practice, an animal that would otherwise be killed is saved and often released, with the hope that it will live out its natural life span. This act of compassion is believed to bring spiritual merit to the person who releases the animal. 

While the practice is not limited to a particular type of animal, in some cases it means that fish, crustaceans or other water-dwelling creatures are released in areas where they are not native, causing unintended impacts on local ecosystems. While this is well documented in some Asian countries, little is known about the practice in North America.

Current research seeks to develop a better understanding of this practice in the U.S. and provide guidance to natural resources managers. The research is supported by the Mississippi River Basin Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension and Wisconsin Sea Grant. At Sea Grant, it falls under a broader portfolio of “closing aquatic invasive species pathways” efforts.

The intent is a “win-win” outcome: Those who practice life release as part of their religious activities can continue to do so, while the spread of invasive species is avoided.

Tim Campbell, aquatic invasive species (AIS) outreach specialist with Sea Grant and Extension, is leading the research with Bret Shaw, associate professor in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at UW-Madison and Extension. Graduate student researchers are also helping.

One output of the team’s work will be print resources for natural resource managers. Available this fall, those resources will help managers understand life release practices and ensure they are performed in a manner that entails little to no risk of spreading AIS, while also respecting religious and cultural traditions that may be new to them.

This work addresses a need voiced by natural resources managers, said Campbell. “They’d heard about this practice occurring and, since little was known about it, it’s something they became concerned about,” he noted. “They were interested in having someone investigate this topic before taking any action, and Bret and I jumped at the opportunity to help managers better understand the practice.”

Sara Fox, a graduate student working for Extension, did significant legwork to establish connections with possible practitioners across the United States. Fox contacted more than 200 Buddhist temples, as well as Buddhist study programs and student groups. Because there are many different Buddhist traditions, some of those contacted were not familiar with life release, while others had heard of it but said that their temple or organization did not practice it.

For those who do participate in life release, there is no single way to go about it: It can be spontaneous or part of a larger group ceremony, and it does not always entail releasing animals into the wild.

Campbell and graduate student Peter Jurich have been interviewing people who practice life release.

Said Campbell, “Almost everyone has said they don’t want to release things if they know they’ll die right away, or if they know it will cause an environmental problem. So people are thinking about the issue.”

The research team will also survey natural resources professionals around the country. Together, the information gathered from them and from life release practitioners will shape the resources that will be available this fall.

Campbell is optimistic that the risks of this pathway can be minimized.

Said Campbell, “The people who are practicing life release would welcome engagement from natural resource professionals in order to make sure their practices are environmentally friendly and compliant with the law.”

For questions about this project, contact Campbell at tim.campbell@wisc.edu.

--JAS




The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

©2011 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents