This seems to be a big week for the Great Lakes, especially their restoration and preservation. The Great Lakes Legacy Act is making its way through Congress; presidential candidate Barack Obama has promised to set up a five billion dollar trust fund for protection of the 5 inland seas (in the spirit of non-partisan fairness here’s the Republicans’ response); the new Omnifilm, Mysteries of the Great Lakes just opened and is playing here at the SMM Omnitheater; and a new debate has started regarding the long-held practice of swabbing debris from the decks of Great Lake freighters once they get out on the lakes.
The five Great Lakes, Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario contain something like 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, and are the source of drinking water for millions of Canadians and Americans who live around them. I grew up along the shores of Lake Superior (our hillside neighborhood in Duluth set on the prehistoric lake bottom of a larger Ice Age ancestor) so I’m partial to good old Gichigami and its siblings, and I’m really glad to see some serious attention is being paid to their clean-up and preservation.
Courtesy Mark RyanHow do you celebrate one of the largest pools of freshwater on Earth? By participating in the annual Lake Superior Day, that’s how! This Sunday, July 20, is Lake Superior Day, a day of celebrations for the world’s largest and cleanest freshwater lake.
Towns and communities lining the shores of Superior in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and the Canadian province of Ontario are planning all sorts of events in tribute to the greatest of the Great Lakes.
Picnics, beach clean-ups, library displays, kite flying, concerts, hikes, an essay contest, and government proclamations are all part of the day’s celebration to bring attention to this huge body of water that holds 10 percent of Earth’s fresh water. Events are planned all around the lake. For example, games and activities promoting water conservation will take place in Red Rock, Ontario. A family picnic is scheduled at Silver Harbour in Thunder Bay, Canada. Afternoon events will take place on Barker’s Island Festival Park in the city of Superior, Wisconsin, and scientists and lake area experts will be on hand at the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center at Canal Park in Duluth with information about the lake’s natural history, regional culture, and invasive aquatic species.
The annual event takes place on the third Sunday of July, and is sponsored by the Lake Superior Binational Forum, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Environment Canada. So, if you're anywhere near Gichigami this coming Sunday, join in the festivities, or just go jump in the lake!
You can rarely go a day here on Science Buzz without reading some post or reader comment about environmental issues. But today, bloggers of all stripes are committing to writing about enviromental issues for the first-ever Blog Action Day. About 15,000 bloggers worldwide have committed to use their space to write on matters that impact our Earth. Minnesota participants (as reported in the Star Tribune today) include Alt Text, Ancora Imparo, The Garden Corner, Matt's Cuppa, Smart Marketing and Views From Minnesota.
Chalk up another victory for environmental protection. Lear’s Macaw, a brilliant blue parrot native to Brazil, is coming back from the brink of extinction. Ten years ago, a survey found only 70 birds in the wild. A June count by the American Bird Conservancy found 751.
The bird is still endangered by hunting and illegal pet trade. But protecting its habitat in northeastern Brazil has helped bring the bird back.
Oh, and before I forget: Season 1, episode 8.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson, whom many credit as the inspiration for the modern environmental movement. Her 1962 book Silent Spring warned the world of the dangers of environmental degradation, especially due to the overuse of chemical pesticides. The book stirred millions of people worldwide to take action. In the United States, we saw the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency – all the result of the movement Carson inspired.
Today, our air and water are cleaner thanks to these actions, and dangerous chemicals are more closely regulated. But some people are re-evaluating Carson’s legacy, especially with regards to the pesticide DDT. Carson explained how insects absorbed the poisonous chemical. Birds which ate enough insects often died themselves, or would have trouble hatching eggs. Carson promoted restricting the use of DDT.
However, some of her followers went further, pushing for a total ban of DDT in many countries. Unfortunately, DDT is extremely effective at killing mosquitoes that spread malaria – a disease that kills some one million people each year. Responsible, limited use of DDT could save millions of lives.
Carson’s legacy reminds us not only of the importance of protecting our environment, but also that one person can have a tremendous impact. It also reminds us that even the best ideas can have unintended consequences, and any major changes need to be undertaken in a balanced, rational and flexible manner.
Eritrea, an east African nation bordering Ethiopia, announced Monday a plan to protect its entire coastline. This is the first nation in the world to make such a bold step towards environmental protection. Eritrea will preserve 837 miles of mainland coast and 1,209 miles of coast around 350 islands.
Currently, Eritrea’s dry coastal plains are largely undeveloped, except for two large cities including its capital, Asmara. The Eritrea Coastal Marine and Island Biodiversity Conservation Project (ECMIB) will create a 330-foot buffer along the coast protecting against future development. Inland areas that are part of the Red Sea watershed will be preserved, and places of ecological importance will be placed under permanent protection as national parks and reserves.
Solving environmental problems is typically a luxury developing nations cannot afford. The little revenue their government generates must be used for economic development and building infrastructure. Still, developed nations, such as the US, continue to learn that it is more cost effective to prevent environmental problems than to fix them. Even more difficult to measure on an economic scale is the cost of ecosystem services, such as clean water. Cities spend billions dollars on water treatment facilities to perform a function that a healthy ecosystem would provide for free. By protecting their coastline and watersheds, Eritrea is protecting against environmental disasters, such as flooding, and guaranteeing that many ecological services will be maintained.
Eritrea is plagued with many of the typical problems of developing nations in east Africa. After a 32-year war of independence from Ethiopia, which ended in 1993, they fought with Yemen and again with Ethiopia. Today there is peace, but it is tenuous. The boarder dispute that ignited its most recent fighting with Ethiopia is still unresolved. These issues are compounded by other problems. Two-thirds of the population needs government assistance to provide enough food for their family. Any economic progress is slowed due to the large proportion of Eritreans who are in the army, rather than the workforce.
Still, with a host of social and economic problems, Eritrea has made an unprecedented step towards environmental protection. They realize that their current problems will only worsen with continued ecological degradation. Severe droughts and other natural disasters caused famine and economic decline in east Africa between 1974 and 1984. Protecting the Eritrean coastline will protect more than just the environment. It is a cost-effective and necessary effort to protect the country and region.