Follow boot tracks towards a well-worn trail and you’ll find a quiet Fairy Lake ready for spring. The sun-loving turtles are still hibernating snug in the mud along with fish and frog species both native—and not-so-native—to the lake.
As springtime arrives at Fairy Lake, we’re thinking back to warmer weather when these freshwater residents got up close and personal with University of Waterloo researchers—all part of an Environment@NII ecological restoration project.
The project: at a glance
Two experts in wetlands ecology are currently studying ways to control invasive species and restore the health of Southampton’s beloved Fairy Lake under a new research project launched by the Nuclear Innovation Institute (NII) and the Town of Saugeen Shores, working with the Historic Saugeen Métis, who have a long connection to this natural waterbody.
Last spring, Dr. Rebecca Rooney and Dr. Heidi Swanson of the University of Waterloo’s Department of Biology began a biological assessment of Fairy Lake. Previous attempts to control the invasive species have proved unsuccessful over the years and water quality in the lake remains an issue.
NII’s Environment@NII program is administering the project, which is funded by a $25,000 donation from Bruce Power, with the remaining funds split between the Town of Saugeen Shores and University of Waterloo.
First mapping the two-square-kilometre drainage area of Fairy Lake, Drs. Rooney and Swanson, along with Waterloo grad student Adrienne Mason, moved on to sampling of the lake’s plants, animals, water and sediment.
Fish, turtles—and neighbourly interest
Around nine o’clock in the morning on a hot summer day last August, the team set up long fyke nets near the north shore of the lake beside the lookout point.
Fyke nets are a passive capture method of sampling fish: large wings direct fish into the net, which is made up of several chambers that have mesh funnels, channeling fish towards the back of the net.
Usually, fyke nets are set out overnight to allow fish and other species to venture in, but in Fairy Lake there is a risk of also catching snapping, painted and red-eared slider turtles, so the team decided on a shorter set time to ensure the health of the turtles.
With their hip waders pulled up, the researchers gently extracted the turtles from the nets and measured their shells—taking extra precautions with the snapping turtles—and then immediately released them back into the lake.
Next up were the fish: the last chamber was opened, and researchers placed fish into a cooler or plastic bin with water and an air bubbler—to be individually measured, IDed, photographed and then released.
In addition to the lake’s fauna, researchers had been conducting regular vegetation surveys throughout the summer to document the expansion and die back of invasive Curly-leaf Pondweed (Potamogeton crispus). This species has spread across North America, with particular concentration in the Great Lakes region.
Last summer, pondweed peaked in early June, covering 75 per cent of the Lake’s surface area before then dying back by mid-July.
The researchers also sampled water as well as sediment and invertebrates from several sites across the lake. Measuring for metals including harmful mercury will be important to assess any levels of pollution that may be contributing to the lake’s poor health.
All these activities are to help researchers get an idea of the diversity of the aquatic community and different aspects of the Fairy Lake environment.
What’s next for Fairy Lake?
Throughout the winter, Drs. Rooney and Swanson and their team have been busy analyzing the water, sediment, frog, fish, turtle, invertebrate and plant data that they collected last summer and fall.
As they plan for their next field season this coming spring and summer, they hope to further explore how the invasive pondweed is affecting the lake’s food web and to investigate restoration strategies that could help improve water quality in the lake.
“Given the interesting history of Fairy Lake and its natural heritage potential, we are very excited to learn more about the factors influencing its water quality,” says Dr. Rooney.