Sea Grant 50th Anniversary: Celebrating the work of our Extension educators

Urban and rural communities, Michigan Sea Grant educator Mark Breederland is proud to serve them all.

Mark Breederland enjoys fishing, especially when he's successful. Courtesy photo.
Mark Breederland enjoys fishing, especially when he's successful. Courtesy photo.

In 2016, the National Sea Grant College Program celebrates 50 years of putting science to work for America’s coastal communities.

Sea Grant is a federal-state partnership that turns research into action by supporting science-based, environmentally sustainable practices that ensure coastal communities remain engines of economic growth in a rapidly changing world. There are 33 programs across the country working to help build and grow innovative businesses along America’s oceans and Great Lakes, protect against environmental destruction and natural disasters, and train the next generation of leaders.

Established in 1969, Michigan Sea Grant, is a collaboration between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. We offer research, education and community outreach on topics such as aquatic invasive species, coastal development, commercial and sports fishing, and environmental stewardship for youth.

Our MSU Extension educators live and work in coastal communities around Michigan. We celebrate their hard work and take this opportunity to introduce each of them during this anniversary year.

Mark Breederland, located in Traverse City, Mich., loves to work with Great Lakes coastal communities and has done so for more than 29 years. He has been a field educator with Michigan Sea Grant Extension for the last 21 years. Prior to his work for Sea Grant, Mark served for six years on water and environment programs with local governments at the Northwest Michigan regional planning commission office in Traverse City. Beside this grounding in local realities, Mark had the pleasure of learning the broad bi-national context of Great Lakes science and policy issues while serving  for three years at the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes office (Windsor, Ontario), where he traveled to many of the communities where Great Lakes Areas of Concern were located.

Within Michigan Sea Grant, he’s served diverse geographies -- working both the Southeast Michigan region (Ohio state line to the tip of the Thumb) and, currently, the Northwest Lower region, as well as special programs and projects in many other places.

Mark learned to fish on Lake St. Clair. He earned a bachelor of science degree from Taylor University (Upland, Ind.), and a master of environmental science from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio). He enjoys outdoor family activities with his wife and 2 teenage daughters and he likes smallmouth fishing but concedes he’s better at fishing than catching most of the time!

What made you decide to be an extension educator?

I was able to work with some great folks with MSU Extension early in my career in various local projects – I saw first hand the value of an honest broker of information at the local level. Then, while I was at the International Joint Commission, I got a chance to meet various Sea Grant Extension folks in other Great Lakes states – Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc. I was impressed with how involved and effective the Sea Grant extension programs were in communities across the Great Lakes. While I learned much Great Lakes information in the international-policy level arena and was able to contribute at that level, I felt my heart and passion best matched up at the local level.

How has Michigan Sea Grant made a difference in our state?

We’ve helped make a difference in the urban coast. I was able to work with a tremendous coalition in the mid- to late 1990s to draw attention to the Detroit River coastline – one of our Great Lakes Connecting Channels. And attention was garnered in a big way as we led a nomination process to the White House. In September 1997, the president declared the Detroit River one of 14 American Heritage Rivers. I chaired the steering committee for this initiative – prior to designation and for several years afterwards. This designation didn’t have millions of government dollars attached to it – but the spotlight and the timing for Detroit were tremendous. The private sector, led by General Motors, Peter Stroh and the Stroh Companies, and others had reinvested in the Riverfront and later formed the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. The Riverfront Conservancy did take in multi-million dollars from various foundations and organizations, and today the Detroit Riverfront has been transformed and is endowed to be maintained in the future. Go visit the new Michigan DNR Outdoor Adventure Center, hike the RiverWalk from the Renaissance Center to Belle Isle, and take in this beautiful part of the Great Lakes urban coast for yourself.

We’ve also made a difference in many more rural coastal communities. The lifeblood of these communities is jobs and tourism – and the waterfront provides an advantage from non-coastal areas. Boating and marinas, commercial and recreational fishing, lake level dynamics and information – all areas Michigan Sea Grant has brought research-based information out to real-world people and working waterfront communities.

What challenges does your area of the state face as you look to the future?

Northwest Lower Peninsula coastal areas are a beautiful draw to many, particularly in summer. But looking below the surface, many communities struggle for sustainability and prosperity on a twelve-month basis and there are some nagging and challenging problems from being located in a dynamic coastal area. Sand is constantly moving on our sandy shores, choking harbor-mouths and funding from the federal government has been non-available for maintenance dredging. How does a small community such as Leland come up with $200,000 on an annual basis just to move this harbor sand to allow boaters safe harbor in a big Lake Michigan blow and ingress/egress for boaters, charter and commercial fisherman? There is a broken system at the federal/state/local level for funding and dealing with this complicated issue, and not just in Leland but many other communities as well.

There could well be a changing Lake Michigan fishery. Communities will have to educate and adjust to new fisheries – perhaps a change away from such a big focus on chinook salmon to enjoying / promoting more diverse fishing – lake trout, steelhead, brown trout, etc.

And we’re all about water safety – swimming in the Great Lakes is not like swimming in inland lakes. Sand bars, wave dynamics, dangerous currents and unprepared people – a potential tragic recipe. We’re trying to educate and inform people to have floatation and yes, enjoy … but please respect these freshwater seas.

How will you and Michigan Sea Grant help?

We’ll continue to bring education to the front doors of these communities. Sea Grant will ensure scientists who study the new ecosystem and food web with all these permanent invasives such as round gobies and quagga mussels, will come share possible or probable impacts on fisheries and learn from local people on their observations as active Great Lakes users; folks who research lake levels fluctuations will update on range of impacts to plan for and deal with; and share information on dangerous currents among other things.

Do you have any advice for students who might want to pursue a career with an environmental focus?

I’d recommend getting a broad-based liberal arts education before specializing too much. I think today’s problems are all connected – and people and local decisions are directly in the midst of these. Problems won’t just be solved with developing an app on a smart phone alone. After a good broad education, later narrow and specialize in your interest areas. Remember a deep and broad foundation can support a large building – and similarly I think this is true in complex coastal issues -  with good logic, multi-disciplinary efforts and understandings, people and environmental problems can come together for practical solutions.

If you could get people to follow just one piece of conservation advice what would it be?

Use, enjoy and keep learning in your coastal (or non-coastal) geography in order to steward this incredible freshwater area. Interestingly, I’ve found some folks who are expert at bird identification couldn’t identify a fish if their life depended on it. Alternatively, some expert fishers can tell you nuances of fish and fish life history, but are ignorant of waterfowl, shoreline birds, plants, etc. If you are a life-long learner, you’ll be able to share this information with neighbors, families, grand-kids, etc. and you’ll make a difference in the next generation!

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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