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Environmental groups attempt to increase population of ‘benthos’ organisms

Lending a helping hand to aquatic critters
Trees at Torch Lake
Trees at Torch Lake(WLUC)
Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 7:22 PM EDT
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OSCEOLA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WLUC) - The after-effects of copper mining on Torch Lake has caused a population decline of ‘benthos’ organisms in the lake.

Benthos organisms consist of snails, worms and insect larvae that live in the sediment at the bottom of the lake.

The environmental consultant firm Mannik & Smith is now monitoring an ongoing experiment to see if scientists can help boost the benthos population regrowth.

“The lake historically was a deposition area for copper mining tailings,” said Project Manager Jeffrey Binkley.

The finely ground copper tailings are toxic to aquatic life and cause problems.

“They know that there’s a degradation of the benthos organisms due to this copper in the sediments, or the mine tailings,” said Binkley. “The solution had been to sort of allow natural sedimentation to refill the lake, creating a barrier between the benthos and the mine tailings.”

However, as benthos recovery remained a concern to scientists it was decided that the aquatic critters needed a helping hand.

Now, experiments are being performed to see if it is possible to boost benthos population growth.

“Experimental plots consist of types of cap materials that can be placed on top of the mine tailings to create a clean buffer for the benthos to live in,” said Binkley. “The other option that was looked at was a combination of capping and planting or creation of constructed wetlands.”

The sediment capping and habitat restoration sites will be monitored periodically. If the number of benthos goes up — scientists will know their efforts are working.

“The benthos are sort of the beginning of the food chain in the lake,” said Binkley. “So without them, there could be impairments to populations of other species in the lake.”

If the scientists are successful in their efforts, larger-scale restorations will take place.

We will continue to follow this story as the project moves forward.

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