Findings of a summer-long research project were recently presented during the seventh annual Water Quality Forum at the Ottawa County Fillmore Street Complex.
Elizabeth Wheeler Alm of Central Michigan University was awarded a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year to conduct the study.
“The EPA was specifically looking for gulls at public beaches,” she said. “They funded our proposal to do a gull exclusionary study.”
Researchers focused on four areas along Lake Michigan in Ottawa County: North Beach Park in Ferrysburg, Grand Haven Beach Association in Grand Haven, and Rosy Mound Natural Area and Kirk Park in Grand Haven Township.
“The problem with gulls at beaches is that they can impact the quality of the beach,” Wheeler Alm said. “What we wanted to know was what was the impact of gulls on overall beach quality.”
According to the researchers, seagulls can bring sometimes harmful contaminants to beaches. Wheeler Alm said the gulls' intestinal content can contain E. coli, enterococcus and zoonotic pathogens.
She said they also wanted to see if border collies could be used to deter the presence of gulls.
Researchers began their work in May on the four beaches — two "control" beaches and two "non-control" — to collect a variety of samples. Dogs were present at the non-control beaches, but not at the control beaches.
“We had handlers and dogs out all day,” Wheeler Alm said, noting that the dogs were allowed to chase the gulls away.
The research stopped after 38 days, then picked back up for an additional 38 days.
“In the second part of the study, we moved the dogs to the control beaches and swapped,” Wheeler Alm said.
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