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Great perils of the Great Lakes

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“The Great Lakes Compact is an awesome victory,” says Jeff Skelding, national campaign director for Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition. “No one predicted it could have happened so quickly. We can’t protect the Great Lakes if there’s no water in them…. The cocktail of assaults may be pushing the Great Lakes toward a tipping point, an irreversible change in the food web.”

Part of this assault is the introduction of 182 invasive species such as the zebra mussel, which began disrupting the food web on Lake St. Clair in 1988 and has clogged many water intake pipes since, at an annual cost running in the billions of dollars.

Typically, “salties” (oceangoing ships) reaching the Great Lakes from overseas via the St. Lawrence River have discharged invasive species along with their saltwater ballast once they reached lake ports. Lakers have unwittingly transported these invasive species in their freshwater ballast, from one point on the lakes to the next.

Zebra mussels have made lake water look cleaner than before. But for Mr. Skelding, the clarity of water is a problem. “Sure, zebra mussels filter water,” he says, “but when the water is clearer, sunlight penetrates deeper, and organic material proliferates and absorbs much-needed oxygen in the water that is needed by fish and microorganisms.” The result: “Dead zones.”

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