With the help of NYS Sea Grant, GLP works to educate students throughout the country about some of the most important issues facing the Great Lakes. Review the sections below for frequently asked questions.
What invasive species are affecting the Great Lakes?
There are over 180 aquatic invasive species impacting the Great Lakes including zebra and quagga mussels, round goby, spiny water flea, sea lamprey, Eurasian ruffe and many others. Great Lakes invasive species include everything from planktonic organisms like fishhook water fleas to large fish, like common carp and sea lamprey.
How are the Great Lakes impacted by these invasive species?
Aquatic invasive species out-compete native species for habitat and food and many of them alter food webs. Invasive mussel species feed on plankton, which reduces food availability for juvenile fishes. Sea lamprey feed on the blood and body fluids of many Great Lakes fishes and can impact their populations.
How do we stop the spread of invasive species?
Legislation focused on the shipping industry has reduced the introduction of new species through ballast water inspection and control measures, but recreational boats can still spread aquatic invasive species to new habitats. Boater education, watercraft inspection and cleaning stations are helping to reduce the spread.
How do we stop the invasive species already in the Great Lakes?
Once an aquatic species is introduced into the Great Lakes, there is little that we can do to control them, that why it is important to prevent new invasive species from entering the Great Lakes. Ballast water exchange programs are designed to help stop the introduction of invasive species into the Great Lakes.
How will the Great Lakes be different in ten years if we do nothing about the invasive species?
Aquatic invasive species have altered the food webs in all of the Great Lakes, so we need to continue efforts to stop the spread of species into areas where they do not have an established population. Asian carp are very close to entering the Great Lakes and if we don't stop their introduction, there could be significant negative impacts in ten years.
What are the biggest sources of pollution in the Great Lakes?
Forms of pollution include chemical releases from industry, microplastics and plastic debris, and chemicals that leach from landfills or combined sewer overflows, spilling untreated human waste and other contaminants into the Great Lakes when there are heavy rainstorms or other high-flow events.
What measures are being taken to prevent pollution in the Great Lakes?
Legislation is in place to reduce point-source pollution from industry, but these regulations need to be maintained and supported. Education and information campaigns are designed to teach people about microplastics and plastic debris and its impact on the Great Lakes.
What other precautions and solutions could be applied or are being considered?
Funding could be put in place to replace combined sewer systems, which end up dumping pollutants into the Great Lakes, but that would be extremely costly.
At what scale is it possible to apply these solutions (town/city, state, nation, etc.), and what might be the cost?
Getting rid of combined sewer overflows would take a multi-millions dollar investment throughout the Great Lakes and although it is possible to eliminate CSOs, there would need to be the political will and taxpayer support to take on this large project. Many communities are taking steps to reduce the impact of CSOs by installing rain gardens, green roofs, retention ponds and other means of reducing high flows into the system.
What’s the worst that can happen if water pollution continues?
Aquatic environments like the Great Lakes, oceans and rivers will all be impacted by increased pollution and that will change food webs, impact animals and fishes and could make the water undrinkable for humans.
Do you think water pollution is the most destructive way to ruin earth?
Water pollution is a critical problem impacting the earth’s environment, but it is joined by the impact of climate change, invasive species, habitat destruction and other problems. There is no way to know which problem in the most destructive, since they all harm the earth.
How long do you think it will take to stop water pollution, or will it ever stop completely?
There is no way to determine how long it would take to stop pollution, since that depends on legislative actions, public will and funding to correct the problem. Since water pollution is a global issue, other countries are dealing with the problem in their own ways, so determining a timeframe for the end of water pollution is impossible. Hopefully, people all around the world will realize that we need to address water pollution for the good of society.
Environmental engineers work at the interface of society and the environment, striving to protect both human and ecosystem health. At UB, environmental engineers focus on sustainability, delivering safe drinking water and clean air, restoring the water quality of the Great Lakes, Hundson River and natural water systems everywhere and several other initiatives critical to environmental health.