The St. Lawrence Seaway: How anThe St. Lawrence Seaway: How an
engineering marvel unleashed a biologicalengineering marvel unleashed a biological
plague on the Great Lakesplague on the Great Lakes
Presentation by JeffPresentation by Jeff
Alexander, author ofAlexander, author of
“Pandora’s Locks: The“Pandora’s Locks: The
Opening of the GreatOpening of the Great
Lakes-St. LawrenceLakes-St. Lawrence
In the beginning …In the beginning …
Glaciers formed, then filled the Great LakesGlaciers formed, then filled the Great Lakes
The Great Lakes: A closed ecosystemThe Great Lakes: A closed ecosystem
The Great Lakes are perched above sea level, which (inThe Great Lakes are perched above sea level, which (in
lakes’ natural state) kept ocean species from enteringlakes’ natural state) kept ocean species from entering
This freshwater ecosystem was …This freshwater ecosystem was …
Natural barriers kept ocean species from entering the lakesNatural barriers kept ocean species from entering the lakes
••Biologically isolatedBiologically isolated
from the oceansfrom the oceans
1600s: Europeans settlers1600s: Europeans settlers
arrive in the regionarrive in the region
1800s: Erie and Welland canals1800s: Erie and Welland canals
bypass Niagara Falls, allow seabypass Niagara Falls, allow sea
lamprey, other ocean specieslamprey, other ocean species
into Great Lakesinto Great Lakes
Important note: Lake freighters, so-called lakers, have
carried the vast majority of cargo on the Great Lakes for
more than a century. Lake freighters haven’t imported any
foreign species into the Great Lakes. The reason: These
ships never leave the Great Lakes.
Wedding of the WatersWedding of the Waters
1959: The St. Lawrence Seaway opens1959: The St. Lawrence Seaway opens
Economic gain, ecological painEconomic gain, ecological pain
The Seaway:The Seaway:
•• Allowed ocean freighters into the GreatAllowed ocean freighters into the Great
Lakes for the first time.Lakes for the first time.
•• Linked Great Lakes ports/ships to theLinked Great Lakes ports/ships to the
global shipping network.global shipping network.
•• Created modest economic gain, majorCreated modest economic gain, major
ecological pain.ecological pain.
•• Unforeseen side effect: Ocean shipsUnforeseen side effect: Ocean ships
carry up to 5 million gallons ballast ofcarry up to 5 million gallons ballast of
water teeming with foreign species.water teeming with foreign species.
•• Ballast water discharges largelyBallast water discharges largely
unregulated from 1959-2006.unregulated from 1959-2006.
•• Ocean freighters dumped about 50 billionOcean freighters dumped about 50 billion
gallon of untreated ballast water in Greatgallon of untreated ballast water in Great
This is an ocean freighter, or salty.
Ocean freighters — not lake
freighters — import invasive foreign
species into the Great Lakes. Ocean
freighters have imported 57of 186
invasive species in the Great Lakes.
1960s: Invasions begin1960s: Invasions begin
Foreign worms, clams and microscopic invaders discoveredForeign worms, clams and microscopic invaders discovered
in the Great Lakes in the 1960s and ’70s. No one soundedin the Great Lakes in the 1960s and ’70s. No one sounded
the alarm.the alarm.
Key datesKey dates
•• 1959: Seaway opened.1959: Seaway opened.
• 1972: Clean Water Act regulated ballast water discharges1972: Clean Water Act regulated ballast water discharges
from domestic and foreign ships operating on U.S. waters.from domestic and foreign ships operating on U.S. waters.
• 1973: U.S. EPA declared ballast water exempt from the1973: U.S. EPA declared ballast water exempt from the
Clean Water Act.Clean Water Act.
• 1981: Canadian study found hundreds of foreign species1981: Canadian study found hundreds of foreign species
(including zebra mussels) in ballast water tanks of ocean(including zebra mussels) in ballast water tanks of ocean
freighters entering the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrencefreighters entering the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence
Seaway. U.S. and Canadian agencies that regulatedSeaway. U.S. and Canadian agencies that regulated
shipping ignored the study’s findings.shipping ignored the study’s findings.
I hate the ’80s: Invaders storm the lakesI hate the ’80s: Invaders storm the lakes
• 1984: Spiny water flea1984: Spiny water flea
• 1986: Eurasian ruffe1986: Eurasian ruffe
• 1988: Zebra mussels1988: Zebra mussels
• 1989: Quagga mussels1989: Quagga mussels
• 1990: Round gobies1990: Round gobies
Consequences of ocean freightersConsequences of ocean freighters
infecting the Great Lakes withinfecting the Great Lakes with
foreign invasive speciesforeign invasive species
Sucking the life out of the lakesSucking the life out of the lakes
Each zebraEach zebra
and quaggaand quagga
mussel canmussel can
filter up to 1filter up to 1
liter of waterliter of water
per day,per day,
water claritywater clarity
and stealingand stealing
plankton fromplankton from
fish. Clearfish. Clear
water alsowater also
algae growth.algae growth.
In 2009, scientists estimated there were 500 TRILLIONIn 2009, scientists estimated there were 500 TRILLION
quagga mussels in Lake Michiganquagga mussels in Lake Michigan
Clearer water leads to excessive algaeClearer water leads to excessive algae
Algae blooms have closed numerous scenic beaches in the GreatAlgae blooms have closed numerous scenic beaches in the Great
Lakes basin, including Petoskey State Park’s (below) in MichiganLakes basin, including Petoskey State Park’s (below) in Michigan
Round gobies taking over the Great LakesRound gobies taking over the Great Lakes
10 BILLION gobies in western Lake Erie;10 BILLION gobies in western Lake Erie;
Even more (10 million pounds) of gobies in Lake MichiganEven more (10 million pounds) of gobies in Lake Michigan
Foreign mussels contribute to Type E botulism outbreaksForeign mussels contribute to Type E botulism outbreaks
that have killed more than 70,000 Great Lakes waterthat have killed more than 70,000 Great Lakes water
Zebra and quagga mussels triggering toxic algae blooms in lakesZebra and quagga mussels triggering toxic algae blooms in lakes
across Midwest, Northeast; some strains more toxic than cyanideacross Midwest, Northeast; some strains more toxic than cyanide
1989: One year after zebra mussels1989: One year after zebra mussels
were found in the Great Lakeswere found in the Great Lakes
2009: Foreign mussels a plague on waters of N.2009: Foreign mussels a plague on waters of N.
Mussel painMussel pain
Quagga mussels take over Lake MichiganQuagga mussels take over Lake Michigan
After foreign mussels arrived, the most important sourceAfter foreign mussels arrived, the most important source
of Great Lakes fish food began to vanishof Great Lakes fish food began to vanish
Population changes ofPopulation changes of diporeiadiporeia
(freshwater shrimp, right) in lakes(freshwater shrimp, right) in lakes
Michigan and Huron after zebra andMichigan and Huron after zebra and
quagga mussels invaded the lakes.quagga mussels invaded the lakes.
Ship-borne invaders in the Great LakesShip-borne invaders in the Great Lakes
•• Ocean freighters have imported 57Ocean freighters have imported 57
foreign species into the Great Lakesforeign species into the Great Lakes
•• 70,000+ birds killed70,000+ birds killed
•• Fisheries disruptedFisheries disrupted
•• Most profound changes everMost profound changes ever
recorded in some Great Lakes.recorded in some Great Lakes.
•• Scope: 23 states, 2 provincesScope: 23 states, 2 provinces
•• Zebra mussel damage: $1 billionZebra mussel damage: $1 billion
•• Ongoing damage from ship-borneOngoing damage from ship-borne
invasives: About $200-$400 millioninvasives: About $200-$400 million
per yearper year
•• Total damage: ??? Still growingTotal damage: ??? Still growing
• St. Lawrence Seaway was an:St. Lawrence Seaway was an:
– Engineering marvelEngineering marvel
– Economic underachieverEconomic underachiever
– Environmental disasterEnvironmental disaster
• Should we close the Seaway?Should we close the Seaway?
– It’s the only 100% effectiveIt’s the only 100% effective
protection against new ship-protection against new ship-
borne invaders, but unlikely toborne invaders, but unlikely to
– Costs vs. benefitsCosts vs. benefits
– Impact on jobsImpact on jobs
Glimmers of hopeGlimmers of hope
The Great Lakes are changing but all is not lostThe Great Lakes are changing but all is not lost
•• The Great Lakes are resilient.The Great Lakes are resilient.
•• A few native speciesA few native species
benefiting from invaders.benefiting from invaders.
•• Improved ballast waterImproved ballast water
regulations offer betterregulations offer better
protection for the lakes.protection for the lakes.
Just when you thought theJust when you thought the
great invasion of the Greatgreat invasion of the Great
Lakes by foreign speciesLakes by foreign species
couldn’t get any worse …couldn’t get any worse …
Enemies at our doorstep: Asian carpEnemies at our doorstep: Asian carp
•• Imported in ‘60s, ‘70s toImported in ‘60s, ‘70s to
commercial fish farms incommercial fish farms in
•• Four species (silver, bigheadFour species (silver, bighead
carp the worst).carp the worst).
•• Escaped fish farms, enteredEscaped fish farms, entered
Mississippi River.Mississippi River.
•• Migrated North; Asian carpMigrated North; Asian carp
DNA found in Lake Michigan.DNA found in Lake Michigan.
•• Millions of Asian carp in theMillions of Asian carp in the
Mississippi, Illinois, MissouriMississippi, Illinois, Missouri
•• Threat to Great Lakes’ $7Threat to Great Lakes’ $7
billion fishery, $16 billion boatingbillion fishery, $16 billion boating
Is Asian carp invasion of the Great Lakes inevitable?Is Asian carp invasion of the Great Lakes inevitable?
Maps show theMaps show the
distribution ofdistribution of
bighead Asianbighead Asian
carp (left) andcarp (left) and
silver Asian carpsilver Asian carp
(right) in U.S.(right) in U.S.
Now what? Prepare for battle!Now what? Prepare for battle!
E-mail elected officials; demand action; support nonprofit groupsE-mail elected officials; demand action; support nonprofit groups
Let’s Save the Great Lakes!Let’s Save the Great Lakes!
For more information please visit www.jeffalexander.orgFor more information please visit www.jeffalexander.org