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A wonder of nature in need of understanding and love PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 07 February 2018 18:02

For a gauge of the trajectory of Lake Michigan’s health, visit the fish market.
    Ewig Bros. fish market, across the street from the west slip of the Port Washington harbor, is selling smoked chubs. Bloater chubs that were once abundant in Lake Michigan have rarely been numerous enough in recent years to be caught and sold, but now commercial fishermen out of Sheboygan are gill-netting a modest catch of the herringlike fish.
    This is a hopeful sign. It is tempered, however, by the small size of the fish. When smoked, they have same appealing golden hue of the chubs of yore, and smoked fish aficionados say they are quite delicious, but they are barely half the weight of the jumbo chubs that were caught by the ton by Port Washington fishermen in the not-so-distant past. These valuable native fish are obviously struggling to survive in an environment in which their food supply has been devastated by invasive species.
    The chub’s plight is a microcosm of the struggles of Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes: Left depleted and vulnerable by man-caused invasions of harmful fish and mussels but showing signs of the ability to recover.
    The vitality of Lake Michigan means a lot to the people of Ozaukee County, which makes Saturday, Feb. 10, an important day around here. It will be Love Your Great Lakes Day, a daylong event billed as a celebration of the many gifts of the majestic lakes, but offering a lot more, including, according to Bill Moren, who is organizing the event on behalf of the Port Exploreum, “education, appreciation and understanding of the treasure we have out there.”
    Two heavy hitters, an academic and a journalist who are among the most respected authorities on Great Lakes ecosystems, will lead the education and understanding components of the day.
    The academic is Val Klump, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences. Klump is a limnologist, but anyone who thinks the term suggests a nerdy scientist is in for a surprise. A compelling speaker, he knows of what he speaks from daring exploits in the lakes he studies. Klump was the first person to descend to the deepest spots on the bottom of Lake Michigan, 922 feet down, and Lake Superior, a depth of 1,333 feet.
    The journalist is Dan Egan, author of “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes,” a book that one critic called “one of the rare books that can change the world.”
    Egan is a reporter—he specializes in investigative pieces on the Great Lakes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel—who has dug out the causes and effects of the forces that have nearly killed the lakes. In his book, he traces the impact of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which was hailed as an amazing engineering feat that brought ocean-going ships into the Midwest when it opened, but now is recognized as the gateway that allowed zebra and quagga mussels and other non-native creatures to enter and corrupt the largest source of freshwater in the world.
    The seaway has little economic importance today and should be closed to let the lakes recover, Egan writes persuasively.        The mussels have made Great Lakes water some of the clearest in the world but, Egan points out, “this is not a sign of a healthy lake, it’s a sign of a lake having the life sucked out of it.”
    The clear water, abetted by fertilizer runoff, causes the algae blooms that make a hideous, and unhealthy, mess of the beaches of Ozaukee County and elsewhere and have made lake water toxic enough to kill fish and be poisonous for humans to drink.
    Love the Great Lakes Day will have music, art and free admission to the marvelous Port Exploreum, but the most valuable takeaways of the day will be the speakers’ explorations of the wonders of the lakes, which Egan put in perspective with these words from his book:
    “A Great Lake can swallow freighters three times the length of a football field; the lakes’ bottoms are littered with an estimated 6,000 shipwrecks, many of which have never been found. This would never happen on a normal lake, because a normal lake is knowable. A Great Lake can hold all of the mysteries of an ocean and then some.”

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