International research flotilla chase giant Lake Erie algal bloom

Scientists from across the U.S. and Canada were on Lake Erie today, sampling a gigantic algal bloom that's making its way to Colchester, Ont.

This year's 'HABs Grab' involved Canadian scientists for the first time

Mike McKay leads the University of Windsor's Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

An international flotilla of scientists fanned out across the western basin of Lake Erie Wednesday, gathering water samples in an effort to learn more about an algal bloom covering much of the area.

Harmful algal blooms — or HABs — have been a concern in the western basin of Lake Erie for years. In 2014, the issue came to the forefront when toxic blooms shut down the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people in Toledo, Ohio.

This year, a large bloom is again covering much of the American side — and it's starting to reach the Canadian mainland near Colchester, Ont.

A multi-agency, multi-university group scientists on eight vessels collected water samples Wednesday morning from roughly 200 locations in a two-hour time span — something they call a "HABs Grab."

It's unknown if this year's bloom is toxic, something scientists hope to determine with today's effort.

Eight research vessels, including three Canadian boats, set out on Lake Erie Wednesday to chase a giant algal bloom. (Ed Verhamme/LimnoTech)

"This is the first time that they've had Canadian participation," said Mike McKay, executive director of the University of Windsor's Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER).

"When we looked at the effort last year of HABs Grab, you saw a void north of the border line — so we wanted to remedy that."

Three Canadian vessels took part: One from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as well as two other boats from GLIER.

The RV MonArk was one of two University of Windsor vessels taking part in the study. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

"All of the crews are using the exact same collection techniques, the exact same analytical approaches," explained Ken Drouillard, a University of Windsor professor and member of GLIER. 

"The idea is to try and take this snapshot of the bloom conditions in Lake Erie as it was today, and compare it to (the forecasting model) ... they want to basically test how accurate that model is."

Samples from all eight vessels will be sent to the United States for testing. Results are expected as soon as next week.

Ken Drouillard was aboard the RV MonArk Wednesday. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)
A water sample collected by RV MonArk on Wednesday. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)


Jonathan Pinto is the host of Up North, CBC Radio One's regional afternoon show for Northern Ontario and is based in Sudbury. He was formerly a reporter/editor and an associate producer at CBC Windsor. Email


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?