Ohio Sea Grant offers funding for Lake Erie research, education, and informational outreach

Fisheries biologists have been tagging smallmouth bass, one of Lake Erie’s most popular sport fish, and using those tags to monitor their behavior to better protect their populations and habitat. 

The Toledo Zoo and Aquarium continues to study the Blanding’s turtle, an Ohio threatened species that can be found in Lake Erie marshes, and how research of this turtle can increase diversity in learning about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). 

Researchers at Bowling Green State University have been studying how tiny, migratory songbirds use the Lake Erie Islands to help them navigate their journeys.

And Ohio State University is studying how to better increase learning about the environment in urban communities that might not be as connected to the outdoors. 

All these studies – and many more – have been funded by Ohio Sea Grant, one of 34 programs across the country that studies bodies of water and their ecosystems through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a federal agency. 

“We want you to tell us what you can do to fix Lake Erie, and we fund it,” says Chris Winslow, Ohio Sea Grant Director. “It’s one of my favorite parts of my job. When that science is done, we can give it to somebody on the lake to just change the way they do things. Ohio Sea Grant really prides itself on funding research that is applied in nature.”

Any state that has waters feeding the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, one of the Great Lakes or the Gulf of Mexico has a sea grant program. Ohio Sea Grant is part of Ohio State University.

Research is one of three parts of what Ohio Sea Grant does. The others are education and informational outreach.


Ohio Sea Grant provides 50 percent of the funding for projects, and the entity conducting the research contributes the other 50 percent. 

Projects are wide-ranging, from studying harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie to examining microplastics in the lake. 

“As director, my job is to reach out to all of the state agencies, businesses along the lake, to our elected officials and ask them what they wish they knew,” Winslow says. “It’s better for me to fund a research project so that when it’s all done, these agencies can do their job better.”

Fighting harmful algal blooms is one of the key issues in the past decade. The blooms, which are bacteria that can release toxins, are a threat to drinking water and can make people and pets who swim in the lake sick. 

A Stone Lab staff member tests water samples in Stone Lab's water-sampling station at one of its facilities on South Bass Island, just across Put-in-Bay Harbor from Gibraltar Island. (Photo/Kristina Smith)Known as the Walleye Capital of the World, protecting Lake Erie’s population of the popular sport fish walleye, is also critical. Anglers also travel to the lake in search of yellow perch and smallmouth bass, among other species. 

Each year, Ohio Sea Grant is required to spend 40 percent – $600,000 - of its budget on research funding. 

“That money comes from Congress, through NOAA,” Winslow says. “We communicate with academic institutions. We say, ‘These are the problems in Lake Erie. Can you tell us the research project you can do to address that problem?’”


One of Sea Grant’s biggest tools for education is its Franz Theodore Stone Laboratory, commonly known as Stone Lab, on Gibraltar Island in Put-in-Bay Harbor off South Bass Island. 

The tiny island is home to a research building and dorms and cottages where college and graduate students from Ohio State, as well as other universities across the Great Lakes, take classes during the summer or complete research projects. Professors from various colleges also conduct research there and at Stone Lab’s facilities on South Bass Island. 

Students in grades 5 through 12 also visit each spring and fall to learn about Lake Erie and its ecosystem. Kids go out on Stone Lab’s research boats, take water and sediment samples, among other hands-on study, and examine them under microscopes back at Stone Lab’s classrooms. 

Ohio Sea Grant is also part of Seagull, a tool by the Great Lakes Observing System, which allows educators to develop curricula about the lakes and put that curricula online for teachers to use in their classrooms. 

“Stone Lab really kind of mirrors what Sea Grant does,” Winslow says. 

Informational Outreach

Ohio Sea Grant has six extension educators who live along Lake Erie, and they focus on coastal resilience. 

“Depending on where they live and what their expertise is, they help those local communities better interact with their community,” Winslow says.

In Sandusky, Sarah Orlando is the extension educator and serves as the Clean Marinas Program Coordinator and heads up the boat shrink wrap recycling program.
To protect boats during the winter, many of them are wrapped in shrink wrap. In the spring, the shrink wrap is removed as boats are readied for the water. Orlando works with marinas and boaters to recycle this wrap instead of sending mounds of plastic to landfills. 

She also works with the public to better understand the effects of stormwater, marine debris, and aquatic invasive species, such as quagga mussels and invasive fish. 
Other educators focus on sport fishing and working with that industry, microplastics and other contaminants in the lake, and other issues along the coast. 

In addition to the extension educators, Ohio Sea Grant, and Stone Lab work with a variety of groups to help them better understand Lake Erie and its ecosystem. They then can go out into their communities and share what they have learned. 

Each year, six to 10 farmers groups visit Stone Lab to learn about harmful algal blooms and ways that they can reduce the amount of phosphorus from their operations - whether from fertilizer or manure – that gets into the rivers and streams that feed the lake and fuel blooms. 

Sea Grant also works with legislators to help them understand its research and the challenges the lake faces so that they can work to make policy helping the lake and the businesses and people who depend on it. 

Each June, it hosts the harmful algal bloom forecast for the media and other stakeholders to predict how severe the bloom will be and help writers and media members understand and effectively communicate that information to the public. 

“I always tell people I think I have the best job at Ohio State University,” Winslow says. “I get to help support research and education and outreach to arguably one of the states’ most critical resources, which is Lake Erie. I think the work we do, if we’re doing it right, has the ability to change people’s behaviors, change agency management decisions and maybe inform policy.”