Friday, September 14, 2012

Great Lakes Week

by Bryan Whitledge

This week, several governmental and non-governmental organizations are participating in Great Lakes Week. When it comes to researching the Great Lakes, in terms of environmental factors, cultural impact, and history, Central Michigan University has a bevy of tremendous resources for researchers of all kinds. The Institute for Great Lakes Research at CMU is a regional hub for furthering the knowledge relating to the ecosystems of the Great Lakes area.

When it comes to the history of the Great Lakes, the Clarke Historical Library’s holdings cover the history of the 5 lakes and all of the surrounding areas from the first documents of European explorers to Michigan governmental documents about impact of various forms of fishing on the lakes. Some of the highlights of the Clarke collection are the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers’ Association Records, maritime records and charts from the days of fur trading up to the more recent car ferries, and hundreds of maps showing the Great Lakes from the 17th Century to recent shipwreck charts.

Another strength of the Clarke Collection is closely tied to this year’s Great Lakes Restoration Conference - documentation and scholarly analyses of the efforts by the State of Michigan, and other Great Lakes States, in the 20th Century to make the lakes more healthy after the disappearance of several native species and the increase in polluted waters. Since these efforts began, the health of the lakes has improved, in some part thanks to the introduction of several non-native fish to the lakes. One of the most well-known and successful of these introduced species was the coho salmon. The above image, from Salmon of the World, by E. Schwiebert shows this Pacific salmon, which was introduced into the Great Lakes in the 20th Century. The success of this fish, in terms of its ability to thrive in the lakes and as a draw for sport fishers, has made this non-native species a key player the Great Lakes ecosystems.

As we think about Great Lakes Week and what it means to restore the Great Lakes, it is valuable to remember that sometimes improving the overall health of the ecosystem has meant bringing something new to the table, such as non-native species. The Clarke Historical Library is your resource for the historical context that helps to understand what the Great Lakes have meant to centuries of people and what it means to protect this valuable resource.