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BOOK REVIEW: 'The Death and Life of the Great Lakes' by Dan Egan

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"The Death and Life of the Great Lakes" by Dan Egan
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BOOK REVIEW: The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan (W.W. Norton & Co.) 2017

In the early 1980’s, while on a fishing excursion out on the open waters of Lake Michigan, my grandfather hooked a coho salmon (a fish originally from the Pacific Northwest and introduced to the Great Lakes in the mid-20th century) and wriggling from the side of the fish was a nasty, eel-looking creature. What I was looking at was a sea lamprey – an invasive pest that had made its way into the Great Lakes ecosystem some time in the mid-19th century.

By that time, 1982-83 or so, the Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario) were cleaner than they had been in decades, but there were still problems, from rising waters (they hit a peak a few years later and are now receding) to the introduction of the zebra mussel and quagga mussel in the late 1980's, along with other invasive species that came either through the Erie Canal or through the St. Lawrence Seaway, that connects oceangoing ships - "salties" - with the freshwater Great Lakes. It's when these ships release their broth of seawater from their ballast that the trouble begins, and leads to problems like the quagga mussel, for instance.

Well, award-winning journalist Dan Egan, with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has just published a well-researched book about the problems facing these five, freshwater “inland seas” and efforts being made to prevent further damage to native species in the lakes – and the entire ecosystem.

Over more than 300 pages, Egan tells us the story of the "modern" Great Lakes, essentially since Europeans began settling along their shores, in three parts - "The Front Door," "The Back Door" and "The Future." What we get is a history lesson, one in which man's desire to "control nature" runs amok. Between canals and seaways and introducing new species into the delicately balanced ecosystem, problems occur. Rampant pollution in shallow Lake Erie has led to algae blooms, which have subsided in recent decades but seem to be returning. The Asian carp seems to be on the cusp of coming up the Chicago River and into Lake Michigan any year now and climate change is a reality that is having a devastating effect on the lake levels and on the people who live on their coasts.

I spent many summers on the shores of Lake Michigan when I was growing up - and still get up there from time-to-time. They are enormous and blue and very cold, for the most part. The United States and Canada are very fortunate to share these bodies of water that are the envy of the rest of the world. If only we made protecting them more of a priority.

The Great Lakes are beautiful and incredibly important to the jobs and lives of the people living there and the plant and animal life in and around the lakes. Egan's book is a very important read for all who care about the lakes and the role they play in this watery balancing act.


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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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