Congress must move to protect Great Lakes
Written by Sheboygan Press   
Tuesday, 23 May 2006 20:54

If only it took as long for an invasive species to gain a foothold on the Great Lakes as it does for Congress to deal with an issue, we wouldn't have to worry about the quagga mussel.

Unfortunately, the quagga mussel is devastating the Great Lakes at light speed while Congress works at a snail's pace to stop it.

The quagga mussel is just the latest invader threatening the delicate ecological balance of Lake Michigan and the four other Great Lakes. This small mollusk filters the near-shore water, allowing sunlight to hasten the growth of algae blooms. Also, the quagga mussel is believed to have caused a severe decline in the population of diporeia — a small, shrimp-like creature that is a prime food source for small fish.

No one wants to put up with the stench from algae blooms, and without the small fish to feed on sport fish, such as salmon and trout, won't survive.

Together, these two factors could severely hinder recreational swimming and boating and sport fishing in the Great Lakes, citting deeply into the multi-billion dollar tourism industry in the Great Lakes area.

The quagga mussel, like its smaller cousin, the zebra mussel, arrived in the Great Lakes in the ballast tanks of ocean-going cargo ships. The ballast water is used to stabilize the ships and is dumped when the ships pick up cargo to return home.

Zebras came in the 1980s and the quagga began showing up in 1997, and both are prolific breeders. Recent studies have shown that the larger quagga is taking over from the zebra as the main invader, even though it's been around for far less time. The quagga can live in the cold dark depths of the lake, where the zebra can't.

There has been a proposal sitting in Congress for nearly four years that would attack the problem of non-native creatures in the Great Lakes.

Among other provisions, it would regulate and restrict the dumping of ballast water from transoceanic ships in the Great Lakes.

The proposal would cost around $160 million — mainly for research into combating invasive species and getting rid of them — but hasn't been able to generate much support aside from Great Lakes lawmakers.

Yes, this is a costly solution, but without it, the future of the Great Lakes will continue to be threatened by non-native species — which are arriving at the rate of almost two species per year.

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