There are great challenges facing the Great Lakes in terms of wildlife conservation. One of note is the increasing incidence of botulism among fish-eating birds such as loons, mergansers, and gulls. They have been in peril for the past fifty years, with periodic outbreaks affecting their populations. Just in the past twenty years, hundreds of thousands of waterfowl have perished by succumbing to the effects of botulism. Botulism is caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which produces the most lethal toxin known and that leads to neurotoxicity with paralysis and eventual death of animals that have ingested it. Waterfowl are most often affected by the type C or type E botulinum toxin strains. Though the disease is not contagious between birds, it is is very deadly, and birds that ingest dead fish or even maggots that have been feeding on infected birds are susceptible to contracting it. If enough birds are feeding on contaminated organic material, a major outbreak may occur.
Perhaps the most pressing challenge in addressing this issue is the need to protect the ecology of the areas inhabited by our beloved avian friends. This constitutes attempting to control invasive species (for example, a fish called the round goby and a mollusk called the quagga mussel) populations that are implicated in promoting the disease. The quagga mussel may harbor the bacteria, and when the round goby eats it, it makes its way up the food chain. Additionally, local water conditions such as algal blooms and anoxia may promote spore germination and toxin production. I believe that prioritization of environmental preservation is critical in aiding the dire straits of the waterfowl of the Great Lakes.