STATE IMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – Increased water quality problems tied to global climate change are affecting the way people fish, boat, and swim on Lake Erie, according to a paper published last month in the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration.
Researchers from the University of New Hampshire and Penn State University surveyed visitors in 13 coastal parks and protected areas along
Pennsylvania’s 77 miles of Lake Erie shoreline from May through September 2015. Visitors reported things like harmful algal blooms and E. coli bacteria were negatively impacting their efforts to enjoy themselves on the water.
“These are relative age-old problems on Lake Erie, but they are being exacerbated by the presence of global climate change factors in the region,” said lead author Michael Ferguson, an assistant professor of Recreation Management and Policy at the University of New Hampshire. “Climate change is only expected to intensify these adverse environmental conditions, and we’re really striving to understand how this affects the behavior of outdoor recreationists.”
For example, he said, warmer temperatures are driving an increased rain cycle — leading to fluctuating water levels and more runoff polluting the lake.
Visitor responses to the water quality problems varied. In some cases, people waited until later in the day to go swimming, or reported having to head for deeper water to fish. Some people chose to leave the area entirely and not return.
“This is a very real problem,” Ferguson said. “It’s something visitors are encountering right now on the Great Lakes. This could have a large impact, not only on the public, but also on the surrounding towns that depend on the outdoor tourism economy.”
For example, this summer Presque Isle State Park’s beach has been plagued with high E.coli bacteria counts, leading to swimming advisories and restrictions.
“While this study took place within the Pennsylvania coastal section of Lake Erie, this is really just a snapshot of what is happening to many similar bodies of water across the country,” Ferguson said.
The study was funded by the Pennsylvania Sea Grant, which is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.