Yesterday I showed two guys around Fish Fry Lake. They were looking for spots to fish from shore or from BioHavens designed as fishing platforms. At one point we walked on a BioHaven floating walkway and observed crystal clear water down to the bottom, about nine feet. If a dime had been dropped, it would be easy to see as it settled all the way into the native chara that rose about a foot or two from the bottom. The different hues of color were striking, with the light, even bright green of the chara contrasting with a darker green of northern milfoil.
The BioHaven walkway led us out to a large floating streambed, which was sending a huge stream of water, like a stream channel, out its far end. That circulation combined with all the surface area connected with the island and the aquatic vegetation is what accounts for the water clarity. Accordingly, sunlight is able to drive its energy into and throughout this clear water. Combine that with the abundant surface area that beneficial microbes require and voilá. The microbes are able to do their thing, and cycle organic material back into the food web. Everything is being competed for too. Everything is being used. Nothing is stacking up.
That’s what’s kicking off the food web, and then the other life forms step forward, literally the ladder of life, until ultimately we get to the level of human beings. This form is probably reached through harvesting and eating fish or bullfrogs, or even plants and their fruit growing on BioHavens. All of this is happening in a setting that used to be a monoculture of algae.
Today’s beauty was yesterday’s mess.
Indian Paintbrush, an iconic Western-US flowering perennial, flourishes on this BioHaven.
Close-up on Indian Paintbrush on a BioHaven Floating Island
Nature’s Helping Hand
When I snorkel around BioHavens, I’m constantly reminded that nature is on our side. What I mean by that is that when we allow nature to perform, she outperforms our expectations. Here’s some examples:
1. More Clarity Means More Room to Thrive Within weeks of activating the circulation/aeration a BioHaven floating streambed provides, water clarity improves. This in turn means sunlight reaches deeper, and with it added aeration at depth, which means critters that breathe air can live in deeper water, so they aren’t just happening in the top few feet of Fish Fry. Our underwater viewing window shows this clearly. Everything from snails to stickleback minnows operate at the stratification zone, and could originally only extend below it for short excursions after which the need for oxygen forced them to come back up. If you’re a snail of course, this is particularly problematic! That’s why a line of snails defines just where the stratification limits their ability to scour nutrients from the acrylic window of the viewing tank.
2. Sponge Colonization Improves Filtering A native form of freshwater sponge colonized BioHaven matrix, adding its filtering capability to the islands. That portion of the sponge extending out from island matrix is in turn grazed by the red ear sunfish. Occasionally, largemouth bass, or kids with fishing poles, catch and consume these sunfish. The sponge seems to prefer colonizing the rigidified BioHavens designed for human access, and not the planted islands so much, where they in turn must compete with plant roots for the suspended particulates in any water. This competition spells water clarity.
3. Variety of Native Plants Provides Variety of Habitat Perennial plants, many with beautiful blossoms like Indian Paintbrush or Marsh Milkweed or several forms of aquatic friendly native sunflowers make BioHavens their home. Different root habits too, so some islands have dramatic root volume below them, while others not so much. This variety of structure in turn provides variety of fish habitat, with bluegill and sunfish targeting the shorter root systems, and bass setting up for their ambush life model in the shadow of longer root systems. Or black crappie surprisingly displacing largemouth just by sheer volume in some settings.
4. Complex Food Web Prevents Disease Crawfish make a living upside down, eating periphyton from the very bottom of BioHavens. This is especially true when root systems are dense and afford a reasonable level of security cover. These guys also probably graze the roots of certain plants, maybe the Carex? In the meantime just up the watershed is another body of water. Same source water. This lake experience die-offs of waterfowl every few years from a hemorrhagic disease. A native form of snail is part of the vector relationship that passes along the disease. But it doesn’t happen on Fish Fry. Probably because the yellow perch and red ear sunfish consume the snails. Snails are still present in Fish Fry, but not in the massive, concentrated fashion they would be without the new complexity of the food web.
This is the key to beautiful, clear water. This is how nature helps us…or doesn’t if we aren’t paying attention. Allow the food web. Partner with nature.