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A New Decade, A New Future for the Great Lakes?

The changing of the calendar year is often time for reflection. With the dawn of the beginning of a century now ten years behind us, this year also allowed for greater review of time. How has the past year, and past decade, treated the natural wonder that sits at our doorsteps?  With the 20th century a decade behind us, have we, as a community, a society, or individuals, embraced new strategies to face old and new ecological problems?
Perhaps one of the biggest stories for the Great Lakes in 2009 was the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The Congressional approval of this $475 million dollar fund for restoration and research in the Great Lakes makes a significant rise in the status of Great Lakes environmental issues on the national scale. While other legendary threatened ecosystems, such as the Everglades and the Chesapeake Bay, have received national attention, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative begins a new chapter in federal focus on restoring the Great Lakes. Currently, many request for proposals are vying for an allocation of this funding. While the funds will be disbursed throughout the entire Great Lakes Basin, there is a good chance that our local Great Lakes ecosystems and communities will benefit from this opportunity- stay tuned!
Not all of the big events of 2009 across the Great Lakes Basin have such an optimistic tone however. While is seems that it has become accepted that cleaning up the past problems of the Great Lakes requires serious financial investment, the threat of invasive species does not appear to be as easily accepted. In a year that marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of St Lawrence Seaway, invasive species are continually causing disturbances in ecosystems across the bi-national basin. Twenty years after its introduction by ocean shipping, zebra mussels (and their cousins, quagga mussels) continue to conquer territory across not just the Great Lakes, but also the entire North American continent. In total, over 180 aquatic invasive species have entered the Great Lakes system, through shipping, artificial channels, trade or other forms of human transport.

And just before the end of the year, it appears that a new invader, believed to be held at the doorstep of the Lakes, has begun to breach its final barrier. DNA of Asian Carp (photo) has been detected past an electronic barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Asian Carp are known for their size (100+ pounds), their voracious appetite, and their legendary jumping out of the water and hitting boaters. Originally introduced to southern fish farms, the Asian Carp escaped during flood events and worked their way up the Mississippi river and into the man made Chicago Ship Canal, towards Lake Michigan. While new defense strategies are being furiously developed, including possibly closing the Ship Canal, the question remains how the introduction of invasive species can still occur in the 21st century. Read more about the fight to stop Asian Carp from invading the Great Lakes here.

Will the next year, next decade, and next century lead to different fate for the Great Lakes? Has society really changed the way we treat the Great Lakes?  While challenges are numerous, we here at Great Lakes United think the tide is turning. More and more communities and residents are not waiting for someone else to begin to tackle these problems.  As more and more people begin to work together to understand and restore the Great Lakes, we will begin to mend the industrial relationship our society has with our Lakes. Only then, will the fate of Lakes be truly different that the one of the past century!

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