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Great Lakes are in trouble - again

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Great Lakes are in trouble - again

A new environmental report says the Great Lakes may be "veering close to ecosystem collapse." A combination of invasive species and agricultural run-off are to blame.

We might have thought the Great Lakes were out of trouble with past pollution problems seemingly behind us. But a new report from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) tells us that the five lakes may be “veering close to ecosystem collapse.” 

The problem, according to the NWF report called “Feast and Famine in the Great Lakes,” is the result of a combination of problems. These include excess run-off of agricultural fertilizers and the spread of invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels.

The “feast” is produced by agricultural fertilizers that run into the lakes. This toxic soup feeds the toxic algal blooms, green algae blooms, and avian botulism problems found in the near shore waters of many of the Great Lakes.

The “famine” is created by invasive mussels that filter and consume the nutrients that make it to the offshore waters of the lakes. These nutrients would normally feed plankton  important to other lake species. This depletion of nutrients creates a “nutrient desert” causing serious declines in prey fish that depend upon the plankton. This, in turn, is leading to a serious depletion of larger species such as lake whitefish and burbot that eat them.

The NWF report draws a direct link between these problems: “… while harmful algae in the near shore are feasting on excess nutrients, fish populations in deep waters are fighting famine.” It also warns that “the challenges facing t he Great Lakes are no less severe today than they were in the 1960s when Lake Erie was declared ‘dead’”

Doing something about this important issue is complicated, but if you live in the Great Lakes watershed there are some things you can do to help.

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