KENORA, Ont. — Scientists working in the IISD Experimental Lakes Area want to know how microplastics and antidepressants are affecting aquatic life.
The COVID-19 pandemic postponed this research last year.
This summer, armed with more knowledge about how to work safely, a team will return to the field to take on both projects.
The ELA – a group of 58 lakes and watersheds east of Kenora – has been described as the world's largest freshwater laboratory.
It's managed by the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development.
Lakehead University is one of the partners working with the IISD-ELA to investigate what happens to fish and other aquatic organisms when microplastics enter the water.
IISD-ELA Deputy Director Pauline Gerrard says "We know the plastics are there. We know they're everywhere. Microplastics are moving around through wind currents and watersheds, and ending up even in very remote areas."
However, Gerrard said it's not clear yet how much they impact freshwater ecosystems.
"We have found them in fish and zooplankton. We don't know how they are affecting those organisms, and the ecosystem as a whole."
ELA researchers will also start investigating the impact of Venlafaxine, a common antidepressant.
Gerrard said that because it doesn't get filtered in most wastewater treatment facilities, it ends up in watersheds
"This pharmaceutical has an impact on vertebrates and how they behave, so we want to know if that impact will also be seen in fish. Will they eat less or grow slower as a result of there being higher levels of Venlafaxine in the water?"
Earlier this month, FedNor funding of $180,000 was announced for preparatory work on a planned Canada Centre for Climate and Lake Learning in the Experimental Lakes Area.
Gerrard said IISD-ELA will use it as a hub for environmental outreach in Northwestern Ontario.
She said it has grown its education program significantly in recent years, but until now hasn't had a proper facility for accommodating visitors.
A federal government announcement stated that the building will be a model of leading-edge environmental innovation, and will be the IISD-ELA's central welcoming facility for researchers, students and others from around the world.