By Dan Egan
Published by W. W. Norton & Company 364 pages hardcover $27.95
The Great Lakes – Superior, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Erie – have some of the clearest fresh water on Earth, but that’s actually indicative of ecological calamity. “This is not a sign of a healthy lake,” writes author Dan Egan. “It’s the sign of a lake having the life sucked out of it.”
The culprits in this paradox are untold millions of zebra and quagga mussels. Native to the Caspian Sea in Asia, these shellfish are but two of legions of invasive species that were introduced to the Great Lakes by overseas freighters that entered these immense bodies of water through the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway. In less than there decades, the mussels have become the lakes’ dominant species. Other threats to our nation’s greatest natural resource include proliferation of sea lampreys and Asian carp, toxic algal blooms caused by the over-application of farm fertilizer, and the possibility of siphoning off Great Lakes water and selling it to China.
More than a decade in the making, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is a compelling call to arms about the relatively simple solutions to these problems. Egan, the only journalist in the U.S. who covers the Great Lakes as a beat reporter, also writes with awe about their power and danger. The ore freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald, sunk in a storm on Lake Superior in 1975 and immortalized by singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, is one of an estimated 6,000 shipwrecks on the lakes, many of which have never been found. “This would never happen on a normal lake, because a normal lake is knowable,” Egan writes. “A Great Lake can hold all the mysteries of an ocean, and then some.”
A reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dan Egan is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He has won the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award, the John. B. Oakes Award, the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award, and the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award. A graduate of the Columbia Journalism School, he lives in Milwaukee, WI with his wife and children.