Great Lakes Now Presents

Episode 1026: Storms, Sanctuary and Suckers

Plovers nest on a Chicago beach, suckers spawn in Wisconsin, and storms rage in Duluth.

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Storms, Sanctuary and Suckers- Episode 1026

After storms wreak havoc with a waterfront park in Duluth, the city rebuilds — but will the new park withstand the next storm? Chicago is a tough place for birds, but at one sanctuary on the city’s shoreline, endangered birds are finding a home. And in creeks on Lake Michigan’s western shore, researchers track the movements of suckers, a Great Lakes fish that’s misunderstood and underappreciated.




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Premiered on DPTV

Tuesday, June 29, at 7:30 PM


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In the Month of June on Great Lakes Now

Click the tabs to read descriptions of each feature in Episode 1026.

The happy family of Piping Plovers take a stroll on the beach at Montrose. Photo courtesy of Turnstone Strategies.

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Plovers Come Over

SEGMENT 1 | Chicago, Illinois

About five miles north of downtown Chicago is a sanctuary that is a haven for birds and the humans who love to watch them. 

The Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary allows birders to get up close and take some astounding photos. Some 350 bird species have been identified at Montrose. 

But stealing the spotlight lately are two little birds named Monty and Rose. They are piping plovers, an endangered bird that hasn’t been seen in the Chicago area since 1948. 

Monty and Rose have caused quite a stir within the bird-watching community. Their mere presence inspired a documentary film, and another one in the works. Bob Dolgan is the filmmaker, and a life-long birder. “I think birds open us up to a whole nother world,” he said. “You see a migratory bird species here in Chicago, that bird might be going all the way to the Arctic Circle in the summertime and then in the winter go down to somewhere in South America.”

Dolgan says birds play a vital role in helping us better understand our world. “If we know more about birds, that tells us so much more about the environment, about the challenges we have in terms of habitat loss, climate change, pollution, pesticides, you name it,” he said. “So birds are really a window into so many other issues.”

The story of Monty and Rose begins in 2019 when birders first saw they nesting on the busy beach and worked to create sanctuary space for them. Since then, Monty and Rose have attracted a huge following. In addition to a large group of bird watchers and children who come to Montrose on a regular basis, a team of more than 200 volunteers work on a rotating schedule to keep a close watch on the birds almost around the clock. 

“I think these birds have been tremendous ambassadors to birding and birds,” said Tamima Itani, who is with the Illinois Ornithological Society.  “Having wildlife within your city, it’s a great story of engaging people and bringing them on board.” 

Here is other Great Lakes Now work on bird conservation:

City of Duluth Construction Project Manager Mike LeBeau looks out over the armor stones protecting the newly rebuilt Lakewalk. Great Lakes Now photo.

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Resilient Duluth

SEGMENT 2 | Duluth, Minnesota

Duluth’s Lakewalk is a major destination, both for locals and the more than 6 million people who visit the city every year. The paved trail hugs several miles of Lake Superior shoreline, with sweeping views of the waters and the city.

But three storms hit Duluth in 2017 and 2018, doing millions of dollars of damage to the waterfront and the walkway.

“It’s humbling,” said City of Duluth Construction Projects Manager Mike Lebeau. “I was down here, kind of during the first part of this last big storm, and people were leaving the area, the whole Canal Park district was flooding. Big stones were moving around, boardwalk sections flipping around.”

It’s an expensive project. Rebuilding just the half-mile section of the Lakewalk in Canal Park will cost about $17 million, but Duluth sees the Lakewalk as important enough to make the investment worthwhile.

“This is a key piece to not only local enjoyment, but the tourist trade for Duluth. So it’s definitely a payback,” LeBeau said. “And if it lasts 50 years in good shape. That’s a pretty small cost.”

But if more intense storms are part of our “new normal,” can we really expect to get 50 years out of anything built on the lakefront?

“I tend to answer that question by saying, we may not have seen the worst the lake can throw our way,” LeBeau said.


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Here is other Great Lakes Now work on resilient infrastructure: 


Suckers live in all five of the Great Lakes, and they swim upstream to spawn every spring. Photo courtesy Shedd Aquarium and Karen Murchie.

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Best Supporting Fish

SEGMENT 2 | Highland Park, Illinois; Multiple Wisconsin locations.

For five years, Karen Murchie has been visiting some 17 sites along lakes Michigan and Superior shorelines to learn about a lesser-known fish: the sucker.

As the director of freshwater research at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, Murchie’s work will help build understanding of the migration patterns of suckers — a native fish population that is important to the creeks and streams that feed the Great Lakes.

“The suckers move from each individual Great Lake,” Murchie said. “They take a quiet creek and bring it to life in the spring. Not long after the ice is off the lake and starting to warm up, the fish start showing up and they’re here to spawn.”

Suckers’ eggs and excrement add nitrogen and phosphorus to creeks and streams, where they can be used by other organisms in the ecosystem, but suckers aren’t  fished commercially or recreationally, so Murchie says we don’t know so much about their biology. That’s what Murchie—aided by a team of volunteers—is aiming to change, by collecting data, and even listening to the sounds of sucker spawning with an underwater microphone.

“They’re a really important fish,” says Murchie. “I say if there was an academy award for fishes… I would give suckers the academy award for best supporting fish because of these amazing services they provide.”


Here is other Great Lakes Now work on other native fish species:


Videos from Episode 1026

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The Great Lakes Now Series is produced by Rob Green and Sandra Svoboda.