Charlene's Reviews > The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan
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it was amazing
bookshelves: biology, climate, ecology, evolution

A few chapters toward the beginning moved a bit too slowly for me, but the rest of the book was great. The first half of the book should have been subtitled: What are Ballasts and How Can They Affect the Health of Lakes and Even Threaten the Lives of Humans? The short and interesting answer is that boats are built with areas that can be filled with water, ballast water, which is taken in upon takeoff and dumped when the boat fills up with cargo. If the water that was taken in the boat comes from an environment that is suitable for salt water species and is dumped in a completely different environment, like the water of the Great Lakes, it can wreak havoc on the eco systems that took a long time to develop in the Great Lakes. In a very short time, that ecosystem can be destroyed and create an environmental crisis. The chapters go into extreme detail about how scientists came to understand that the ballasts were indeed what was ruining the ecosystems, and thus the health of, the Great Lakes. I was very interested in the general picture but felt that there was detail added that actually took detracted from the main message because I felt too bogged down in minute and unnecessary detail that kept stealing my focus.

All the detail added up to the fact that ballast water brought in foreign species, mainly through bringing eggs from seawater species and dumping it in the lakes. The EPA thought ballast water harmless and allowed ships to dump their ballast water without having any guidelines. That all changed when researchers made the issues public. To fix the problem, the ballast water had to be bleached to sterilize it and then treated with vitamin C to neutralize it before it could be dumped into the lake.

To make up for the over-detail-sharing, the author included a story about how ballast water made a ship wobble until it tipped and sank, killing more passengers than the Titanic.

Ballast water is not the only thing that has threatened the health of the Great Lakes. Phosphorus was a huge problem. This is one of the biggest problems with allowing sewage to flow into a body of water. Human urine contains a lot of phosphorus, which poisons lakes. For science lovers, you will really enjoy the story included about how one scientist boiled down buckets of urine to isolate phosphorus and how upon its discovery, was seen as a cure-all. It reminded me a lot of how radium was viewed in society before everyone realized how dangerous it actually was. Climate change is also creating a significant problem for the health of the Great Lakes.

At its core, this book read like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, warning its reader about how different pollutants can affect our most valuable natural resources. It was, at times, shocking how devastatingly fragile the fresh water environment is and it was made very clear how important it is to care for this resource. The book ends with suggestions about how to do just that. We should listen carefully to this warning.
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Reading Progress

November 7, 2017 – Shelved
November 7, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
Started Reading
December 17, 2017 – Shelved as: biology
December 17, 2017 – Shelved as: climate
December 17, 2017 – Shelved as: ecology
December 17, 2017 – Shelved as: evolution
December 17, 2017 – Finished Reading

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