A History of the Great Lakes

January 8th, 2013 BY Marina Hanes | No Comments

In 1959, the Great Lakes opened to draft navigation, and since then these waters have transported an estimated two billion tonnes of cargo from the United States to Canada. Although it has maintained a “near-perfect record of trouble-free navigation” for over 40 years, the quality of this navigation has not been so perfect. One hundred and eighty invasive species such as the sea lamprey and zebra mussel have negatively impacted the Great Lakes on both an environmental and economical level. To provide solutions and prevention for these destructive invasive species, the National Invasive Species Act was developed in 1996.

Invasive species cause economic and ecologic hardships for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. However, the National Invasive Species Act has been effective with implementing better management of these nonnative organisms. Even some states like Ohio and Michigan have proposed stricter laws to help reduce the spread of invasive species. Although laws and regulations are in place to solve this aquatic crisis, some groups support the legislation while others oppose it. In addition, there are some legal challenges that have made individual state’s proposed legislation somewhat controversial.

Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario make up the Great Lakes. These lakes are considered to be a part of the largest fresh surface water system on the planet, covering over 94,000 square miles and containing approximately 6 quadrillion gallons of water. The Great Lakes has had a steady economy; it yields $15 billion annually from recreation and tourism and $6.89 billion from fishing, so these lakes support an estimated 84,000 jobs.

The connecting channels to the Great Lakes serve as an important element of this water system too. For example, the connecting channels include: the St. Mary’s River, the Soo Locks (safe transportation for ships), St. Clair and Detroit rivers, Niagara River (pumps water over Niagara Falls), the Welland Canal (manmade), and the St. Lawrence River (empties into the Atlantic Ocean).

Since the Europeans settled, the Great Lakes water system has experienced invasions by nonnative organisms; there have been 146 known invasive species to enter the lakes. With increased settlement, the lakes began to be used more for transportation and trade, which made it easier for new organisms to make their way into the water system. It is estimated that a new type of invasive species enters the lakes annually.

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