Great Lakes at a Crossroads

Dan Egan, reporting for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Despite their vastness, for thousands of years the inland seas above Niagara Falls were as isolated from the outside world as a Northwoods Wisconsin pond. That all changed in 1959. The U.S. and Canadian governments obliterated the lake’s natural barrier to invasive fish, plants, viruses and mollusks with the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a system of channels, locks and dams that opened the door for ocean freighters to sail up the once-wild St. Lawrence River, around Niagara Falls and into the heart of the continent.

Small boats had access to the lakes since the 1800s thanks to relatively tiny man-made navigation channels stretching in from the East Coast and a canal at Chicago that artificially linked Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River basin.

But the consequences of opening a nautical freeway into the Great Lakes for globe-roaming freighters proved disastrous — at least 56 non-native organisms have since been discovered in the lakes, and the majority arrived as stowaways in freighter ballast tanks.

New species additions are a natural part of ecosystem life. Rejoice for those around you and admire the beauty of all organisms. Mourn a changed ecosystem do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously.