Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Unique Lake Erie Island Dwelling Water Snake Pulled from the Brink of Extinction

Western Lake Erie has an island chain off the coast of Sandusky, Ohio.

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Quite beautiful. Some of the islands, such as Kellly's Island (US) - population 327 - and Pelee Island (Canada) - population 256 - are inhabited. Pelee island is, of course, Canadian and is about 10 miles from the mainland on either side of the lake.

Interesting factoid about Pelee Island. It's the largest island in the chain and you might notice it's laced with farmland. Why? Because it's one of the most ideal climates in Canada for growing grapes. Quite a few of those farms of those are vinyards.

The island chain is also home to a unique subspecies of the non-poisonous Lake Erie Watersnake, Nerodia sipedon insularum, which has recently been brought back from the bring of extinction and is now being taken off the US Endangered Species list due to local and Federal intervention.

The Lake Erie watersnake population had declined to about 1,500 adults by the mid-1990s because of human persecution and habitat loss from shoreline development. Federal and state agencies designated 300 acres of inland habitat and 11 miles of shoreline as breeding and hibernation grounds, while scientists led a public relations blitz to convince people the snake was nothing to fear.

The effort quickly paid off. By 2002, the snake had reached the government's minimum goal of 5,555 snakes. A census in 2009 estimated the population at nearly 12,000.

Ironically, the accidental introduction of the invasive round goby has helped increase the populations of these snakes as a new food source. The goby has also helped bring back the bird the double crested cormorant because of the new food source...in fact, the double crested cormorant has come back so strong because of the goby that the once struggling species is now a nuisance in parts of Lake Erie.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, these Great Lakes are more than just massive puddles. They're unique ecosystems. And they need to be protected for their own sake, for the sake of the critters that live there, for the people who live around them and vacation near them, and for the economic lift they give to the region.

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