CLEVELAND - Boaters attacked by leaping carp near Chicago.
All kinds of other fish and aquatic bugs mysteriously vanishing
Sound like a cheesy science-fiction flick?
No, just more horror stories in the making for dozens of
U.S. and Canadian researchers as they try to anticipate
how the ever-changing biological picture underneath the
surface of the Great Lakes will continue to unfold.
The occasion is an international symposium the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and Environment Canada have held on even-numbered
years since 1994, called the State of the Lakes Ecosystem
This yearís event, which began yesterday at the Cleveland
Convention Center, gives the two nations a forum to pause
and reflect on 30 years of cleanup efforts since former
President Richard Nixon and former Prime Minister Pierre
Trudeau signed the landmark Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
in April, 1972.
That year was a watershed for environmental regulation because
Mr. Nixon - the president who created the U.S. EPA - also
signed the domestic Clean Water Act.
That legislation, the basis for Americaís water pollution
laws, was signed in October, 1972.
Few people deny the Great Lakes are slowly recovering, but
the pace continues to frustrate officials as new issues
emerge, old ones resurface, and money becomes tighter.
Take bighead Asian carp, a species of fish that has migrated
north along the Mississippi River and into the Chicago River.
Officials fear itís poised to enter Lake Michigan and spread
across the Great Lakes, despite efforts to keep it out.
At 40 to 50 pounds, itís a whopper of a fish. Itís sensitive
to vibrations and has, at times, leapt out of water and
thrust itself missile-like at boaters caught by surprise.
When itís not flying through the air, itís robbing native
sport fish of their food and being an ecological pest, officials
The carp were brought to North America by some Arkansas
hatcheries 20 years ago to eat algae, but escaped confinement
in the early 1990s and have been making their way up the
Though several reportedly were caught in Lake Erie two summers
ago, officials believe any problem in that lake was miniscule
compared to what could be on the horizon.
Asian carp could someday replace the zebra mussel as a biological
pest symbol - a notorious feat, no doubt, considering that
146 types of unwelcome fish and plants from other continents
have made their way into the Great Lakes since the 1830s,
Tom Skinner, administrator of the U.S. EPAís Midwest regional
office and manager of that agencyís Great Lakes National
Program Office, said the only possible benefit may be the
carpís ability to shock people with its "cartoon quality,"
something which could open the eyes of laymen to the seriousness
of invasive species.
"You can talk to people about zebra mussels until you are
blue in the face, but carp jumping into boats could have
a galvanizing effect," he said.
Then there is Lake Erieís mysterious dead zone, that area
of dormant pockets in the lakeís central basin, from Sandusky
to Erie, Pa., where fish and aquatic bugs no longer live
because of a sudden loss of oxygen in the water.
Scientists spent a great deal of energy this summer trying
to diagnose the problem. Gnawing at them is the question
of whether the dead zone is a fluke - a temporary setback
- or a symptom of a larger problem re-emerging.
"We take the Lake Erie dead zone issue rather personally.
The agency has put a lot of work into improving Lake Erie,"
Mr. Skinner said.
John Mills, Environment Canadaís regional director general
for Ontario, said he believes the primary goal Mr. Nixon
and Mr. Trudeau set forth for the Great Lakes in 1972 was
achieved by sewage plant improvements and better farming
techniques that led to a dramatic reduction in phosphorus,
a nutrient found in human waste and fertilizers.
Reducing phosphorus curbed Lake Erieís widespread algae
problem, although small blooms of a potentially toxic variety
known as microcystis have reappeared almost annually in
warm, shallow areas since the mid-1990s.
Mr. Mills said the dead zone emerging in Lake Erieís central
basin is troubling news to Canada, as well. "Itís really
the extent and magnitude of it that raises eyebrows," he
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