The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan (2017)



This is a must read for everyone associated with the great lakes: residents, tourists, commercial fishing industry members, sport fishers, cities, the shipping industry–everyone. We’re all going to be affected in some way, and it appears that these are some of the main ways: invasive species like zebra and quagga muscles have already done huge damage in filtering the water, zapping nutrients from other, native, species, thus starving them. These muscles literally line the entire bottom of the lakes, allowing us to walk from one side to the other without every touching the sand. They muscles have arrived through ballast water on ocean ships via the St. Lawrence Seaway–an ongoing problem of how to eliminate these freeloaders who bring undo harm to the lakes. Then there’s the Asian carp swimming up from the opposite side–from down south where they have made it to the Mississippi River and all its tributaries, including the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Should they populate the lake (it appears as though their DNA has breached the barrier of the lake), they could conceivably overpower all other fish species.

So it’s basically an ecosystem that needs constant balance. The alewives came in via ocean ships and quickly died in fresh water, leaving smelly carcasses on every shore. Then, Pacific Chinook salmon were brought in to eat the alewives. That worked well, but now there aren’t enough alewives to feed them and so the salmon are dying off. Our native brown trout are making a small comeback, and now there’s the goby that’s maybe going to start eating some of the trillions of muscles lying on the bottom. Overall, it’s a depressing book because it seems that the ecosystem is so fragile and so close to dying; as well, the water levels are wreaking havoc on the shore, affecting many tourism industries, and finally, many Western states want our water, so what happens when it’s siphoned off to water Arizona golf courses?  We have a lot to think about, but most important, we need to be involved, educated, and aware of our lakes and their needs. We cannot assume they’ll be here for our children or grandchildren. We will have to fight to be sure they have similar water in which to swim, boat, ski, fish, and play as we did. This could be an enormous fight. 

Dan Egan has done an enormous amount of research to compile all the information in this book. He is a tremendous resource and asset when it comes to saving the Great lakes. No surprise that this was a Pulitzer finalist.

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