Posts Tagged ‘Lake Champlain’

A Universe unto Itself

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Living our daily lives we hardly notice the goings on in the natural world. I suppose in all fairness they probably do the same. A close observation of a flower will reveal to you that it is not only a place for an insect or hummingbird to find nectar, but it is also a home for a wide variety of insects looking like representatives from an alien world. The range in color in body shapes is as varied as their roles. There is everything from miniature predators like spiders waiting to ambush other species looking for nectar to herbivores taking advantage of the plant itself. In some cases there is even species looking to simply catch a ride on other species like some sort of a biological bus station.

Each zone in the natural world is like its own world with its own set of rules just like each continent on Earth has its own unique accent of plant life and fauna. These same rules apply both above and below the waterline where each habitat range provides a bounty of sustainability to its own fauna and plant life. During a recent dive into Lake Champlain I found that depth and lighting created a universe unto itself allowing specific species and survival techniques to flourish.  Just imagine that this particular lake is 120 miles long. However it varies in depth from very shallow to an amazing 400 ft depth.

The amount of sunlight varies greatly as well so the deeper you go the less sunlight makes it to the bottom. This means the greatest amounts of algae are in the areas that allow near constant bathing in sunlight.

Life in the Shallows” seems to be driven by the very sunlight it self. The abundance of light allows for blooms of algae that in turn is food for species including filter feeders like invasive Zebra Mussels whose razor sharp shells seem to cover the bottom until you go deep enough that they are starved for algae due to the eventual decrease in sunlight. Amazingly some species of birds and fish do actually feed on Zebra Mussels so although they are invasive, they are now another food source and also abundant.

In the coming years biologists will need to perform long term studies to understand the impact on the overall health of species like Yellow Perch that now include the Zebra Mussels on their dinner menu. The shallow zones of Lake Champlain are now synonymous with these prolific mussels but the well lit areas also have many other species carving out a niche in this shallow aquatic universe. It is hear that large predatory fish are taking advantage of those beams of light that makes their prey stand out in the brightly lit water. While exploring by scuba on water approx 8 to 15 ft I found they seemed to be patrolling parallel to the beach along the longer part of the lake and looked like some sort of aquatic bird of prey soaring like a Hawk waiting to flush out its prey as its eyes gazed with  deep intent at the world below.

With colors reminiscent of camouflaged soldiers trying to remain hidden the Log perch Darter fish blends perfectly against the grasses along the bottom. Their colors look like a beautiful design blending of jaguar and tiger patterns with a yellowish hue background against the black stripes. Like their namesake they seemed to “Dart” about within the small rounded rocks on the bottom quickly looking for food before once again finding a hiding place as the ominous shadows of the predator fish species like Smallmouth bass move with and eerie glide nearby.

With the lake having over 80 types of fish they come in may sizes. Some species in large freshwater lakes such as Lake Champlain can be enormous like Channel Catfish weighing well over 30 pounds to Sturgeon that can be 7 feet long and over 300 pounds! I did not see any during the recent series of diving expeditions however; I did come across a very large and exciting species to swim with which included the somewhat skittish Fresh Water Drum. I saw several of these very large fish in the shallows in water that was about 12 ft deep. They were very large and at least at a glance appeared to be well over 10 pounds. They added to the excitement of the exploration and gave an amazing sense of wonder to the shallows.

Like all things in nature, the most amazing things come when we actually pay attention to the fine details.

Seeing species taking advantage of “Life in the Shallows” introduced me to a beautiful world of amazement just beyond the beach and the glitter of the sun dancing on the waters surface. Understanding that each unique zone within such a massive watershed forms a universe unto itself means we can have a greater understanding their secret world.

Admiring the myriad of life in the shallow water zone is undoubtedly key to our own species appreciation of the health of the watershed and also the raw beauty that resides just beyond our site. I suppose that is what it’s really all about, taking the time to understanding our wild neighbors then gaining a better appreciation of them.

Mark Fraser

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Diving for Gold!

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

On a recent trip to begin production of a future film “Exploring the Depths of Lake Champlain” I decided to break up the dives based on several trips. These would be consistent with the different segments of the film including wildlife, native and non native “invasive” species, watershed habitats feeding the Lake, fossils, Shipwrecks and Geology.  For some of the geological dives I began to research, looking for anything that seemed to be interesting to capture on film. Calling a local dive shop I was in luck. I was told that there was something magical about 70ft deep beneath the glimmer at the water’s surface.

It was Pyrite also sometimes called “fools gold”. I was absolutely thrilled!  I never expected to find such an amazingly interesting geologic feature in the depths of the lake. The Dive team assembled and we chartered a boat in Willsboro Bay area of Lake Champlain.  We set up anchor against huge rock palisade that looked to be about 600ft high rising above the water. After our safety briefing with the boat’s captain and assembling our camera gear, it was time to make a splash. The water was amazingly shallow. I mean we could literally, stand up!  We were informed to swim north towards a small peninsula of rock sticking out into the water and from that point on the water was very deep just past that (about 150ft).  

So after a brief swim the team began the descent into the murky depths. Right away I notice that the water is amazingly “green” in fact this looked allot like diving off the coast of Gloucester Massachusetts something I have done countless times.  The green hue was due to a blue-green alga bloom brought on by the recent heat wave in the area.  I could see fresh water clam species and within a few ft began to notice tens of thousands of invasive Zebra mussels that cover every inch of the waters rocky edge. Traveling down deeper, noticing occasional crags within the rock wall where some smaller species of fish quickly hid before I could identify them. Drifting further, lights a blaze on this under water cliff that I was slowly sinking beside was a strange feeling. Like falling but in slow motion. In time, at about 65ft the green algae suddenly and abruptly stopped giving way to a blackness that covered everything so completely only the light from my dive light and the more powerful lights of the camera team allowed for any visibility.

Another 10 ft down, we began to search in earnest. It took a long time to find what we were looking for, and our air was running seriously low, when suddenly the black rock of the underwater cliffs edge gave way to this massive chevron shaped white quartz! It was breathtaking. The quartz wall appeared to be About 10 ft high and about 15 ft wide and looked completely out of place against the otherwise dull colors of the rest of the cliff. I get close realizing that I must hurry with low air but I need a closer look as I notice a small shiny beam of light. I swim to it, and am amazed to find- its gold – gold Pyrite! There are tiny flakes mixed into the white quarts wall creating beautiful sparkles of light.  As I wave my dive lights, the light sparkles like the floor of a dance hall. For a moment I pause frozen at the beautiful world that I am now visiting but I must hurry. At this depth staying to long could be more then dangerous, it could be fatal.

Though I am amazed by the beauty before my eyes, I know must go, as I am only a visitor to this magical underwater world. As I begin to climb to the surface staring back to the depths, and the light slowly returns I can’t help but think that one day I will again return to my dance hall under the depths of Lake Champlain.

Mark Fraser

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