SIL deplores Canada’s termination of the Experimental Lakes Area project

27 May 2012

A couple of days ago I mentioned the amazing decision by Canada to terminate the world’s largest and longest running experiment on lake management, the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) project.

As someone living in a country (South Africa) which is still suffering from the fall-out of an equally short-sighted decision – the willful ignorance and deliberate non-disclosure of the Williams Report being just one facet), I can only join in condemning such a short-sighted decision.  The need for informed lake management is increasing, not decreasing.

SIL, the International Society for Limnology, is correct in taking a stance on this issue. I have copied hereunder the note sent by the SIL President, Professor Brian Moss, to its membership.  The NOAA have echoed this concern.

It has been announced ( that the Government of Canada will be closing the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) after 44 years of research. The ELA is a unique facility for aquatic research – there is no other comparable facility in the world ( for more information). The ELA, located in northwestern Ontario, consists of 58 small lakes and their watershed that have been set aside for research.

Our Canadian colleagues are mounting a number of petitions and protests and need our support to block this decision. I shall write formally to the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper (, on behalf of SIL but individual protests will help convince him and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (

You might also like to protest to the Canadian ambassador in your country. The tremendous value of the ELA lies in the ability of scientists to conduct whole-ecosystem manipulation experiments. These studies have provided sound scientific knowledge for the development of environmental policies both nationally and internationally. The key areas of influence have been in understanding and managing algal blooms, acid rain, climate change, aquaculture, mercury pollution, greenhouse gas production, hydroelectric reservoir development, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Research at the ELA has demonstrated that smaller scale experiments cannot provide uniformly reliable information for managing whole lakes. Thus by shutting down this facility, scientists in government, industry, and academia will be unable to conduct the research required to formulate sound environmental policies.

The scientific output of Canada’s ELA has been impressive to say the least – it has produced 745 peer-reviewed scientific articles, 126 graduate theses, 102 book chapters and synthesis papers, 185 data reports, and several books. ELA scientists have been the recipients of numerous prestigious international water awards, including the Stockholm Water Prize, the International Tyler Prize for Environmental Science and the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering. The ELA has also received outstanding reviews by Canada’s Auditor General’s office, and the Government has invested approximately $4 million in new infrastructure over the last 10 years.

There is an on-line petition for non-Canadians to sign (

This gives everyone outside of the country a place to share their thoughts, and gives the coalition to save the ELA within Canada something to point to regarding international outrage around the closure.

As it happens, I have written an article for the issue of SIL News next to appear concerning the future, which hints at trouble to come as environmental problems mount up and gives as an example the Canadian government’s muffling of its scientists. We will all face these problems eventually so now is the time to stand together.


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