Great Lakes

The Herbert C. Jackson prepares to enter the MacArthur Lock while the Tuscarora approaches the Poe Lock pier.
Michelle Hill / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (AP) - Another cargo shipping season is underway on the upper Great Lakes.

The navigational lock complex at Sault Ste. Marie was to open Wednesday just after midnight after being closed since January 15 for routine maintenance.

chicago skyline from lake michigan with wake
Flickr user get directly down / Flickr

This year marks the 17th season of The Great Lakes Cruise Company, and three new cruises between Chicago and Montreal, along with a new ship, the Saint Laurent, will be introduced this year.

West Michigan speedskater April Chernoby takes advantage of unusual ice conditions on Lake Michigan.
courtesy April Chernoby

The beginning of March brought on some unusual conditions along the coast of West Michigan. The ice off the coast of Grand Haven was as smooth as glass - perfect for skating. 

How the Great Lakes look from space as of yesterday (Feb. 23, 2015).

With below freezing and single digit temperatures expected to continue through the week, ice cover on the Great Lakes is expected to continue to increase.

We hit a peak for the season yesterday with almost 86% ice cover for the Great Lakes -- that's well above where we were at this time last year (62%).

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (AP) - As hard as it may be to imagine the nearly ice-covered Great Lakes as a Caribbean-like cruise ship destination, that's just what they'll be when summer comes to the world's largest fresh water system. 

Great Lakes Cruise Co. says it will begin offering itineraries between Montreal and Chicago in July on the M.S. Saint Laurent. The company's website describes the ship as a "4-star, intimate and charming ocean-going coastal vessel."


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - For the second consecutive winter, bitter weather threatens to turn the surface of the Great Lakes into a vast frozen plain.

The federal Great Lakes research laboratory in Ann Arbor reports Friday that nearly 81 percent of the five lakes' surface area is ice-covered. On Thursday, the ice cover exceeded 85 percent.

  The lab's George Leshkevich says the small drop-off probably happened because winds broke apart some ice, creating open spots.

Rachel Kramer / User: Flickr

A research team has discovered high levels of flame retardants in bald eagles in Michigan.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, are in all kinds of consumer products.  They're in our couches, our TVs, our cars, our office chairs, the padding beneath our carpets, and the dust in our homes. But the chemicals don’t stay put. They leach out and build up in people and in wildlife.

"What we found was that some of the eagles, particularly in Michigan, had some of the highest exposures to flame retardant chemicals in the world," says Nil Basu, a professor at McGill University in Montreal.

There’s a new report card of sorts out on fish sold commercially from the Great Lakes.

It’s from Seafood Watch. That’s a program at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

Hovercrafts float on air and are used in ice rescues
Flickr user Eric Bégin

Next weekend, firefighters and rescue personnel can brush up on their ice rescue skills at an event called the Ice Rescue Conference and Education in Muskegon.

Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes subject to clean-up by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
User airbutchie /

A proposal to continue a wide-ranging Great Lakes cleanup program has been resurrected in Congress after falling short last month.

Rep. David Joyce, R-OH, introduced the bill Thursday. It would extend the soon-to-expire Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for another five years and authorize spending $300 million annually.

A dive team works on Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The oil spill disaster on the Kalamazoo River got many in Michigan wondering about the state of Michigan's oil and gas pipelines.


The Great Lakes go up and down. It's just a fact of life. 

Water levels in Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron continue to be above their monthly averages for the first time in 16 years.

Roger Greil, manager of LSSU's Aquatic Research Laboratory, holds up a container full of Atlantic salmon fry that were hatched in the wild, not in the lab's hatchery.
John Shibley / LSSU

Lake Superior State University researchers have determined that Atlantic salmon are naturally reproducing in the St. Mary's River.

The prized game fish were originally native to Lake Ontario, but experienced a massive population decline by the late 1800's. Today, Atlantic salmon are stocked in the St. Mary's River and in other parts of the upper Great Lakes.

Though the Atlantic salmon population remained healthy when maintained by the St. Mary's fishery, the salmon population did not take root naturally, apparently due to a thiamine deficiency.

While conducting research for his senior undergraduate thesis on sturgeon, Stefan Tucker found what he suspected were Atlantic salmon fry in the St. Mary's River. His identification was later confirmed by University of Michigan taxonomist Gerald Smith. Tucker and a team of researchers concluded that the Atlantic salmon population is indeed naturally reproducing.

A press release from Lake Superior State University explains the implications of this finding:

The discovery is not only exciting for those at LSSU, the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, and others who have been involved with stocking Atlantic salmon in the upper Great Lakes for more than two decades, but also to anyone who follows the changing dynamics of the Great Lakes, especially in relation to lake trout and salmonids.

Though this discovery answers one question, it begs others.

Tucker concluded his thesis by stating that "the extent of natural reproduction and mechanisms influencing reproductive success are unclear and warrant further attention."

- Ari Sandberg, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Clarence S. Metcalf Great Lakes Maritime Research Library

Michigan Radio's M I Curious project is a news experiment where we investigate questions submitted by the public about our state and its people.

As part of our M I Curious project, Shelly Scott asked Michigan Radio this question:

Have there ever been pirates on the Great Lakes?

“I thought: we’ve got such nice water bodies around here, why don’t we hear anything about fantastic things that happened on the Great Lakes?” she says.

Scott is an engineer at Ford and she’s also a leader of her daughter’s Girl Scout troop.  These 5th grade girls had some questions about freshwater pirates too:

“What do pirate ships look like? Was there any pirate treasure in the Great Lakes? How did they get away with stealing other people’s treasure?” asked Maria Kokko, Lilli Semel and Shannon Scott.

A silver carp.
Michigan Sea Grant

ALLEGAN, Mich. - Officials say genetic material of Asian carp has been found in a river in the Kalamazoo River in southwestern Michigan.

The state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday announced DNA from silver carp was detected in one of 200 samples taken in July the Kalamazoo River in Allegan County. The river flows into Lake Michigan.

Officials say the discovery marks the first time so-called environmental DNA for silver carp has been found in Michigan's Great Lakes waters outside of Maumee Bay in Lake Erie. In a statement, the agencies say there's "no evidence that a population of silver carp is established."

The silver carp is one of the Asian species threatening to invade the Great Lakes and compete with native fish for food.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A lot of us are curious about the oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac.

Michigan Radio's M I Curious is a news experiment where we investigate questions submitted by the public about our state and its people.

As part of our M I Curious project, Justin Cross asked Michigan Radio this question:

What is the status of the aged Enbridge oil pipeline running through Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac?  

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Lakes Michigan and Huron have recovered after more than a decade of low water levels.

Government scientists say the lakes rose above their historic average this month.

Just two years ago, the water was at the lowest level ever recorded.

The quick recovery has stifled an effort to engineer a solution to the problem of low lake levels in Huron and Michigan.

But proponents say it would be shortsighted to forget about the issue.


Several Great Lakes mayors want stronger and faster action to keep Great Lakes drinking water safe.

A drinking water summit was held this week in Chicago, hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

Nicola Crawhall, deputy director of the initiative, said the meeting was triggered by the August shutdown of Toledo Ohio's drinking water system. The water was contaminated by microcystin toxins.

"We felt that was a watershed moment, if you like," said Crawhall.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

It wasn’t the real thing, but federal and state agencies joined with local groups to respond to a mock oil spill in northern Michigan today.

“That boom is to keep out any oil from coming on this side,” one of the coordinators told reporters, as he pointed at crews lowering pillow-like yellow floaters into the Indian River. 

The booms were deployed just downstream from where an oil pipeline has sprung a make-believe leak.  A short distance away, officials from a variety of agencies manned a full command center, organizing the response in the mock disaster drill. 

Sea lamprey

Beginning on Sept. 9, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will start to apply lamprey-killing pesticides into the Muskegon River.

The sea lamprey is a blood-sucking eel-like invasive species living in the Great Lakes. The fish is native to the north Atlantic ocean and got into the Great Lakes around 1920. The numbers proliferated since then.

Michael Twohey is a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. He says that the lamprey is devastating to the native fish population.

“They are very efficient fish-eating machines. Each one consumes about 40 pounds of lake trout in its lifetime," says Twohey.

That's why the sea lamprey killing is planned for the Muskegon River system, using a chemical called TFM. Twohey says it's remarkably benign to most other creatures. The chemical will kill the sea lamprey larvae and largely leave everything else intact.

"We just can't have a sustainable fishery without sea lamprey control programs," says Twohey.

*Listen to the interview with Michael Twohey above. 

Photo courtesy of USFS, Rob Elliott

This Saturday, 35 baby sturgeon will be released into the Kalamazoo River at a sturgeon release party. It’ll be in New Richmond and it’s open to the public.

Lake sturgeon are ancient fish. They’re Michigan’s oldest and biggest fish species and can live to be more than 100 years old. Many populations of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes were wiped out decades ago, but people have been working to bring them back.   

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan took a big step forward this summer in the business of fish farming. The state issued a permit to expand the Grayling Fish Hatchery more than tenfold.The hatchery raises trout for restaurants and grocery stores.

The expansion comes as interest in fish farming is growing nationwide and there is now talk of going offshore into the open waters of the Great Lakes.

The Grayling Fish Hatchery could soon be the largest aquaculture operation in Michigan by far.

Dan Vogler is one of the owners of Harrietta Hills Trout Farm based near Cadillac. He hopes the expansion is a sign of a growing fish-producing industry in Michigan.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr

Ever wonder what you can find below the surface of our Great Lakes? David Jude tells us on today's Stateside.

Jude is a research scientist emeritus at the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan.

Jude says the most fish-populated lake is Lake Erie. It’s shallow, has very diverse habitat, and as a result, has high species diversity. The least-populated lake is Lake Superior because of its cold temperatures and depth.

In his experience, Jude says the species you are most likely to see in each of the lakes are:

  • Lake Erie – round goby, yellow perch, gizzard shad, brook silverside, largemouth and smallmouth bass;
  • Lake Huron – spottail shiner, quagga and zebra mussels, emerald shiner, walleye, and lake herring;
  • Lake Ontario – Atlantic salmon, round goby, gizzard shad, spottail shiner, yellow perch, and white perch;
  • Lake Michigan – spottail shiner, round goby, and yellow perch;
  • Lake Superior – lake herring, emerald shiner, and longnose dace.

*Listen to the full interview with David Jude above.

User: carol mitchell / Flickr

Just in case the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement isn’t on your summer reading list, here’s the gist of it:

It’s an agreement between the U.S. and Canada. One of the goals of that agreement is to make the Great Lakes more swimmable, fishable and drinkable.

The International Joint Commission is an independent bi-national organization. It gives advice to the U.S. and Canada on meeting those goals, among other things. The IJC has a Health Professionals Advisory Board, and the board’s come out with a report proposing five ways to measure risks to our health from contaminants and other hazards in the Great Lakes.

The advisory board is proposing these indicators:

  • The chemical integrity of source water
  • Biological hazards of source water
  • Illness risk at Great Lakes beaches
  • Identified risks at Great Lakes beaches
  • Contaminant levels in fish

University of Chicago-Paulson Institute

The nation’s former Treasury Secretary has an idea about how to bring more foreign investment to the Great Lakes region. He’s coming to Detroit today to pitch it to the city’s business leaders.

Henry Paulson sees the Great Lakes region as a place presenting a lot of opportunities for emerging markets, like China, to invest.

Paulson was President George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary during the 2008 financial crisis. He championed the $700 billion bailout of the nation’s banks. Before that, Paulson headed the investment firm of Goldman Sachs.

krossbow / flickr

No matter the season, if you live in Michigan, water isn't far away.

The Great Lakes. One of Michigan's 11,000 inland lakes. A river, like the Manistee or Au Sable.

Traverse Magazine invited five Northern Michigan women writers to share their thoughts on water. Two of those writers join us today on Stateside from Interlochen Public Radio.

Anne-Marie Oomen grew up on a farm near Lake Michigan. She says that besides understanding from the very beginning the reliance of agriculture on water, she felt related to water in a spiritual way.

Fleda Brown recalls fond memories of summer times spent near Michigan lakes as a child. “Driving up from Arkansas … and getting closer and closer to the lake and the woods, the first glimpse of water I saw through the trees was like miracle,” she said.

* Listen to full interview above.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Great Lakes region didn't do so well last year in beach water quality, according to the annual beach report by Natural Resources Defense Council. 

More than 3,000 samples were taken from coastal and Great Lake beaches across the country. Thirteen percent of the samples had bacterial levels that were too high for safe swimming. That means the region has one of the highest failure rates in the country. 

Steve Fleischli is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He explained why this might be the case. 

Loreen Niewenhuis at Manitou Passage (Lake Michigan) with the Manitou Islands visible offshore.
User: Loreen Niewenhuis / Facebook: Loreen Niewenhuis Fan Page

After hiking some 2,000 miles around the Great Lakes, Loreen Niewenhuis is headed to the islands of the Great Lakes for another thousand-mile adventure of hiking, boating, kayaking, and bicycling.

First, she hiked completely around Lake Michigan, her "1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach." Then she decided to hike the shorelines of all five Great Lakes, another 1,000-mile adventure.

She has turned both of those into books.

Now she is working on her third journey: A 1,000-mile Great Lakes Island adventure. This month, she'll be visiting Isle Royale to help out with wolf and moose research.

Niewenhuis joined Stateside today to talk about the environmental issue she observed on her island journeys and recount her amazing experiences, including searching for moose bones on Isle Royale and hiking Pictured Rocks on Lake Superior.

*Listen to the full interview with Loreen above.

Swimmers and boaters in Michigan need to be more careful on the water.

"We're at 23 fatal drownings on the five Great Lakes so far this year. It's about 50% up from last year at this time," says Bob Pratt, the director of education at The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. He says many recent deaths have been boaters who were swimming or they ran into trouble while boating on the lakes. 

Animal Planet

Would you:

A) run away screaming

B) attack them with golf clubs, weed whackers and curling irons, or

C) haplessly fall victim to them as you enjoy a quiet afternoon of fishing with your dog?

The residents of a fictional Michigan town do all of the above in "Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys" airing this week on Animal Planet. It's by the same people who brought us "Sharknado."

Watch the trailer below:

Really, it was only a matter of time. With its toothy suction cup for a face and razor sharp tongue, the sea lamprey was a horror movie villain just waiting to shine.