Less than 20,000 years ago, as the earth’s climate warmed and the last glacial continental ice sheet retreated, a system of interconnecting bodies of water began to form – a system we now know as the Laurentian Great Lakes. The Great Lakes, comprised of five large lakes, one small lake, four connecting channels and a seaway, span over 95,000 square miles (245,759 square km), and are now one of the world’s most important natural resources.
Sadly, neither its size nor its power has protected the Great Lakes region from threats such as toxic contamination, invasive aquatic species and loss of wetlands, to name a few. While some progress has been made in addressing these threats, their impact remains, easily seen in the form of closed beaches, fish consumption advisories, lost shoreline, etc.
In this issue of Leaf Litter, we will begin to examine the ecological health of this critical resource. With its six quadrillion gallons of fresh water, 30,000+ islands, vast fishery, broad range of ecosystems and tremendous variety of plants and animals, the Laurentian Great Lakes bioregion is certainly worth exploring.
When discussing a system so vast, it only makes sense that we gain the perspectives of several Great Lakes experts. In this issue, we were fortunate enough to chat with: Karen Rodriguez, an Environmental Protection Specialist with the U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office; John Andersen, Great Lakes Director for The Nature Conservancy; Steve Timmermans, an aquatic surveys scientist for Bird Studies Canada; and Karen Vigmostad, Director of the Great Lakes Islands Project and the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Regional Office. For those of you who haven’t met our Great Lakes Bioregion leader, Ivette Bolender, her article on the islands of the Great Lakes provides a nice introduction. We’ll also take a look at the burning issue of invasive species in Great Lakes region with Kevin Heatley.
So join us as we step into this grand, natural system and discover its beauty, its treasures and its vulnerabilities. As always, we welcome – heck, invite – your feedback.