The last article addressed how to help preserve the Great Lakes by understanding the impact of global climate change and the need for water conservation. Another huge problem is invasive species. The best news about invasive species is that it is a correctable problem; the bad news is that it is mostly ignored by the vast majority of people.
Over 180 biological invasive species have been counted since tracking began. The current hot item is the Asian carp, but there have been 25 other aquatic invaders that preceded the carp – alewives, sea lamprey, round gobies, zebra mussels, quagga mussels and the spiny water flea. Add to that list aquatic plants such as purple loosestrife, curly pond weed and Eurasian milfoil. All of these invasive species have been introduced to our eco-system through the ballast water of ships coming into the Great Lakes, except for the Asian carp. There have been many efforts to try and control ballast water releases into the Great Lakes, all of which have proven ineffective because of a lack of enforcement on the international shipping industry. The Asian carp were imported into Louisiana and Mississippi to keep fish farms free of unwanted plants and algae. A hurricane overflowed the ponds and the carp were loosed into the Mississippi River basin. It has taken more than a decade for them to move up the Mississippi River, into the Illinois River and up the Chicago River channels to reach Lake Michigan.
The battle against invasive species is ongoing and costs exceed 120 billion dollars annually. They cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage each year to water systems and navigation channels; they damage the balance of the eco-system. We need to move toward full enforcement of the ballast water rules and find a collaborative solution to closing water access into Lake Michigan without shutting down the shipping interests through the locks on the Chicago River. Solutions must be found or we face losing the Great Lakes as we know them. More on this as progress is made toward a solution, until then, keep a tight line.