Studying the Great Lakes with fellow Dan Egan

As part of the O'Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism, an $8.3 million donation made in honor of Marquette alumni Perry and Alicia O'Brien, I am fortunate enough to be working with fellow Dan Egan of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  for this semester – and hopefully the year – on his project addressing the issue of invasive species and their impact on the ecology of the Great Lakes.

Growing up nearly 90 miles by water from Milwaukee in Muskegon, Mich., I have had first hand experience with Lake Michigan's ebbs and flows. Watching my favorite beaches recede year by year, witnessing the build up of zebra muscles on my childhood boat dock and becoming more aware of the growth of green tinted water coming into Bear Lake are just a few of the issues that seem to plague our fresh water.

Now, as Egan says, starting from the back door: The Chicago River.  

Doing my homework thus far I've learned, through his previous articles, the history and movements of two specific species of Asian Carp, the bighead and silver carp, and their push north from the Mississippi River and its tributaries threatening to enter the Chicago Area Waterway System and eventually Lake Michigan. 

Reading that there are currently 186 foreign species of fish, mollusks, plants and bacteria already present in the Great Lakes I am curious as to what efforts have been taken since this discovery, and what successes have been made to combat Great Lake ecology threats. Can any of those studies be applied now by the US Army Corps of Engineers against the Asian Carp?

Both environmental DNA and the Electric Dispersal Barrier bridging the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal are discussed at large throughout Dan Egan's study of the ecology, and now politics, behind the invasive species topic. Although eDNA is relatively new, relying on the barrier solution, according to National Resource Defense Council attorney, Thom Cmar, might not be as effective as once thought. 

Egan's interview with Cmar gives multiple reasons not to trust just the barrier in his August 2012 article Fish barrier vs. carp DNA: What to believe?

"They act like the barrier is the one thing they're sure of and they have spent lots of time publicly questioning eDNA when, in fact, eDNA has survived peer review, and - at least at this point - their barrier science hasn't," Cmar said.

It is concerning that the barrier hasn't gone through an extensive scientific review. Perhaps the Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Mississippi Interbasin Study, slated to be released this year, can provide some clarity and alternative solutions to the invasive species debate allowing for action to finally be taken.