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Empire, MI - Volunteers are being sought to assist with the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore's avian botulism beach monitoring program. An informational training program for prospective volunteers will be held from 1:00-4:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 2 at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore) visitor center, 9922 Front Street, in Empire. If you are interested in volunteering and attending this meeting, please contact Park Ranger Sue Jennings or Amie Lipscomb at 231-326-5134. The following week, on Thursday, June 9, an informational program on bird mortality related to botulism poisoning will be held in the Munneke Room of the Leland Township Library, 203. E. Cedar Street, Leland from 7:00-8:30 p.m. The June 9 presentation will include updates on how botulism poisoning is affecting waterfowl along coastal areas of Lake Michigan, and how volunteers can assist. The June 9 program will include speakers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Michigan Sea Grant, National Park Service, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Avian botulism is a paralytic, often fatal disease of birds that results when they ingest toxin produced by the native Clostridium botulinum type E; an anaerobic bacterium found in nutrient rich substrates. The bacterium spores (resting stage of the bacteria) are abundant in many North American lakes. The spores are found in the gills and digestive tracts of fish living in these lakes and can remain viable for years; they are harmless until the correct environmental conditions prompt them to germinate. Type E botulism occurs only under conditions when these spores germinate and the bacteria multiply and the vegetative cells produce toxin. Changes in Great Lakes ecosystems have increased the growth of the botulism bacterium. Birds are often poisoned by eating fish or invertebrates that contain the toxin.
In addition to actively monitoring the shoreline for sick and dead birds, the park is collaborating with scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the University of Michigan, and Northwestern Michigan College's Water Studies Institute, to conduct studies in the Lake Michigan near-shore environment to better understand the mechanisms of toxin transmission. These studies and public presentations are funded through President Obama's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to assure that Great Lakes beaches, fish, and sources of public drinking water are safe, and that the ecosystems that fish and wildlife depend upon are healthy.
Lake Michigan beaches within the National Lakeshore remain safe for swimming and recreation, however, park visitors should exercise caution upon encountering bird or fish carcasses. Type E botulism is not an infectious disease. It is a poison. You must ingest the toxin, usually by eating an infected fish or animal, to become ill. You are not at risk for contracting botulism by swimming in Lake Michigan. Visitors bringing pets to areas that allow pets on beaches should keep their pet on a leash and avoid dead animals. Pets may be poisoned if they eat dead birds or fish containing botulism toxin.
For more information, please contact the National Lakeshore at 231-326-5134 or visit the park website at www.nps.gov/slbe.