The TC Ticker has a feature on a distinctive yellow 1953 Piper Cub seaplane that is about to be deployed to gather information about how bird die-offs along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore happen by recording algae blooms with a camera that can probe depth up to 50 feet. :
The cause of the bird die-off isn’t the mystery; invasive species are to blame. Clearer water resulting from filter-loving (non-native) mussels increases algae production. When the algae breaks down, a bacteria is produced that is lethal to some waterfowl.
In 2007, 1,700 dead birds washed ashore the national park. The majority were endangered loons.
“Literally, there was a loon every ten or 15 feet,” says Hans VanSumeren, director of NMC’s Great Lakes Water Studies Institute, which is working with the aviation department on this project.
Though the die-off hasn’t been as massive since, the problem isn’t going away. VanSumeren says researchers and park officials need more knowledge about what occurs in the water’s environment during the spring and summer. NMC’s seaplane offers the unique perspective the researchers haven’t had until now. “It’s the whole piece of monitoring the Great Lakes, which we don’t do enough of,” he adds.