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New photo exhibit shows how far Onondaga Lake cleanup as come

Local photographers are showing off pictures of wildlife and birds returning to Onondaga Lake, during an exhibit open to the public this weekend at Honeywell’s Onondaga Lake Visitors Center in Geddes. The images are meant to show the public that the lake is being restored.

Like the canary in the coal mine, birds are often a harbinger of the health of an ecosystem, says Audubon of New York Executive Director Erin Crotty.

Credit Greg Craybas
An eagle hunts for prey.

"Birds are still sentinels of the health of the environment," Crotty explained. "They continue to be. So when you have a robust bird population, when you have a habitat that can support them and other wildlife, you’re really on to something great in terms of their long term protection.”

Crotty says the bird organization has been watching the health of the lake for more than a decade.

“Onondaga Lake was identified by Audubon as an important bird area in 1997 because of the waterfowl population here in the winter," Crotty said. "And that’s why we’re so committed to the lake and ensuring its long term clean up and restoration.”

And that’s what she says has happened in Onondaga Lake. Once the most polluted lake in the country because of high levels of mercury, benzene, PCB’s and other chemicals dumped over years into the lake, it was hard for migratory birds to make it their home.

Credit Greg Craybas
Photos like this will be on display this weekend in Geddes.

But many have returned, thanks to the improved water quality that’s resulted from a continuing clean up that’s cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Recent reports show that bird diversity is improving, with sightings of bald eagles, great egrets, osprey, kingfishers and numerous species of waterfowl. Crotty isn’t surprised.

“It’s funny. I mean the birds will take care of themselves," Crotty said. "It’s us who have to make sure the habitat is available for them, in order for them to be able to eat and breed and continue. Seeing all the different variety of species, seeing the top of the food change represented, like the bald eagle, is an indication that the ecosystem is healthy.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.