An early morning trip to North Bar Lake for Renee Babiarz, Biological Science Technician for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, proved beneficial. She is part of a team of Biologists for the Lakeshore that have been monitoring Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) which can be seen one moment and gone a couple hours later. HABs are cyanobacteria that can cause algal blooms accompanied by elevated toxins. These harmful algal blooms degrade water quality, alter aquatic habitats and can cause health problems in people or animals that have contact with food or water containing these toxins. This morning, Renee caught it and was able to get a sample to take back to the lab. After discovering HABs at North Bar Lake during the summer of 2020, in 2021 SLBE became part of a two year nationwide harmful algal bloom project to learn about and equip national parks with the resources and tools to manage, monitor and respond to HABs. When this and other toxins are found around our lakes and waterways, warning signs will be clearly posted for visitors to see. Reports are also made to EPA Bloom watch and can be viewed by the public here.

Our local lakes are also tested for E. coli several times a week. The Park’s biologists visit twelve different beaches weekly. At each sampling site, things like the weather conditions, number of visitors and the presence of algae or wildlife is recorded. In order for the most accurate results, three samples are taken at each site with specific criteria being met for obtaining them; how deep they are taken, how far apart and how they are transported. 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has been monitoring the park’s most popular beaches since 1997, utilizing a testing procedure that yields same day results. Your donations to the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes help fund the water testing supplies and the Park’s participation in the HAB testing project at North Bar Lake. The monetary support you provide encourages and promotes safe, informed and enjoyable visitor experiences within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Thank you!

Article and photos by Kristy Tompkins