“Protection Society Looks to Protect Long Island Lake” - Ryan Tumilty

The Long Island Lake Mutual Protection Society is hoping to create a safer environment for the lake’s loons with more buoys to warn boaters of the dangers they pose to one of our national symbols. 

“What we have been doing as a society is trying to educate people,” says Ehreth Horinek, president of the society. 

The society has been encouraging boaters for several years to go slowly on the lake and avoid loon’s nests so the birds can reach maturity.  It is hoped the buoys would serve as one more way to remind boaters. 

Local environmentalist and society member Jim Martin has been studying the loon population for several years and was alarmed to discover only 25 percent of loons born at the lake last year survived to maturity in October. 

Martin believes this is in part because of boaters getting too close to loon’s nests and either causing the birds to leave their nest or swamping the nest with large waves. 

While he does not believe boaters are solely responsible, he would like to make them more aware of  the loon population.

“I can’t believe anyone would intentionally cause harm to a loon,” says Martin.  “It’s a case of people being aware enough to avoid those sites.” 

While society members have pushed in the past to put restrictions on the lake, the buoys would not be new restrictions. 

Martin says the buoys would simply remind people of areas that are already restricted as no-wake zones. 

Loons are easily disturbed creatures and the more they are bothered the more likely they are to leave their nests and the less likely their chicks are to live. 

Martin has noticed that in the areas on Long Island Lake where boaters either drive through slowly, or avoid altogether, the loons always do better. 

“There is a direct, correlation between how much a loon is disturbed and how many chicks reach maturity,” says Martin. 

Martin says in the north end of the lake two natural bays have allowed to nesting pairs to have consistent success since he began keeping track of the loon population 

Loons are especially sensitive to large boats because their nests are so low to the water.  A large boat can create waves that could drown the nest or wash away the eggs. 

Loon chicks also have trouble swimming and need to be able to crawl on to their mother’s back to stay afloat, something that can be difficult in large waves. 

While loons are also susceptible to bad weather and predators, when the threat from watercraft is added to the mix, the loons have even less chance of surviving to maturity. 

“If you have predators and bad weather and you add boats and big waves then it can be very difficult for the loons to survive,” says Martin. 

Loons also often head out into open water to avoid some of their natural predators, making them more likely to be hit by passing boats. 

Martin also says an increase in night time boating could be affecting the loons chances of survival as loons may be hit by a boat before they realize they are in danger.

“In the daytime they can see (a boat) coming but at night its just light and noise.” 

Martin has seen improvements on the lake since he first brought up the issue several years ago.  According to his surveys, there were nine nesting pairs on the lake and now there are twelve.  In an ideal situation, those 12 pairs could have as many as 24 young. 

The society has just started to into the buoys and hope to secure some provincial grants:  buoys can be very expensive.  Martin says hopefully they will be able to get a few into the water this season and a few more next year.

Reprinted from “Westlock News”  - Alberta

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