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Pandora's Locks

Pandora's Locks: The Opening of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 466
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  • Book Info
    Pandora's Locks
    Book Description:

    The St. Lawrence Seaway was considered one of the world's greatest engineering achievements when it opened in 1959. The $1 billion project-a series of locks, canals, and dams that tamed the ferocious St. Lawrence River-opened the Great Lakes to the global shipping industry.Linking ports on lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario to shipping hubs on the world's seven seas increased global trade in the Great Lakes region. But it came at an extraordinarily high price. Foreign species that immigrated into the lakes in ocean freighters' ballast water tanks unleashed a biological shift that reconfigured the world's largest freshwater ecosystems.Pandora's Locksis the story of politicians and engineers who, driven by hubris and handicapped by ignorance, demanded that the Seaway be built at any cost. It is the tragic tale of government agencies that could have prevented ocean freighters from laying waste to the Great Lakes ecosystems, but failed to act until it was too late. Blending science with compelling personal accounts, this book is the first comprehensive account of how inviting transoceanic freighters into North America's freshwater seas transformed these wondrous lakes.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-197-1
    Subjects: History, Environmental Science, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxvi)
    (pp. xxvii-2)
    (pp. 3-8)

    The sun was sinking toward the horizon over Lake Ontario, its fading light painting the autumn sky orange and lavender, when the icon of the North filled the air with its haunting yodel. The bird broadcasting the call was not visible from the beach at Henderson Harbor in northern New York. Still, there was no mistaking that a common loon,Gavia immer, was nearby. The loon had one of the most distinctive calls in the community of water birds. Its memorable call was matched only by its beauty and affection for its offspring. With monochrome feathers, crimson eyes, a black-and-white-barred...

  7. 01 DOMINION

      (pp. 11-24)

      Niagara Falls is one of the most breathtaking and commercialized natural wonders on the planet. Its massive liquid curtains, created by water from four of the five Great Lakes spilling over the shale and dolomite edge of the Niagara Escarpment, measure a half-mile wide and 175 feet high. Words cannot adequately convey the magnificence of the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the Niagara gorge, and the American and Bridal Veil falls on the United States side of the border. The trinity of waterfalls is the second largest on Earth, but it has no equal. The beauty and fury...

      (pp. 25-36)

      On a cool September night in 1954, Marilyn Bell stood on a retaining wall in Youngstown, New York, and tried to overcome her worst fear as she prepared for an unprecedented feat. The 16-year-old Canadian girl was about to attempt a swim across Lake Ontario, a 32-mile journey across dark, mysterious waters in the middle of the night. No one had ever completed the grueling swim from Youngstown to Toronto. Bell knew it would take every ounce of strength and endurance she could muster. But it wasn’t the distance, fear of strong currents pushing her off course, or the reality...

      (pp. 37-54)

      Dense fog blanketed a section of the St. Lawrence River from Montreal to Massena, New York, on a summer morning in 1959. That day was supposed to be the brightest moment in the shared maritime history of Canada and the United States. After nearly five years of construction that followed six decades of political bickering, the time had come to dedicate the St. Lawrence Seaway. It was, at the time, one of the world’s largest public-works projects. The momentous occasion brought a queen and a president to the banks of the St. Lawrence River. England’s Queen Elizabeth II and U.S....

      (pp. 55-62)

      For the better part of three centuries, anglers and fish-eating birds have converged on rivers in Canada’s Maritime Provinces each spring to stalk a small fish known to locals as gaspereau. It is an anadromous ocean fish, a type of herring known in the United States as alewife, river herring, or sawbelly. Technically, its name isAlosa pseudoharengus. But the common names afforded it are far more interesting. Some anglers call it sawbelly due to the row of scales along its belly that resemble a saw blade. Many Americans refer to it as alewife, a name some historians attributed to...

    • 05 A KING IS BORN
      (pp. 63-78)

      The early 1960s were the environmental Dark Ages in the Great Lakes. Industries and cities with inadequate sewage-treatment plants used the lakes as toilets for all manner of chemical and biological wastes. Decades of excessive fishing, coupled with the sea lamprey invasion, had virtually eliminated the Great Lakes’ top fish predator, the lake trout. Alewives that snuck into the lakes after lamprey multiplied at a frenetic pace and then died by the billions, fouling beaches. Water quality wasn’t much better: Pollution tainted fish and wildlife and fueled summer algae blooms that turned Lake Erie and shallow bays the color of...

  8. 02 PLAGUE

    • 06 FATAL ERROR
      (pp. 81-88)

      Among landmark environmental events, a disastrous incident on June 22, 1969, lived in infamy. That was the day the Cuyahoga River caught fire near Cleveland, Ohio. An oil slick on the river ignited—water turned to flame—and burned for 24 minutes. So polluted was the Cuyahoga with chemicals, oil, and grease, a spark was the only ingredient needed to trigger a fire. A train passing over the Cuyahoga produced the ingredient that set the filthy river ablaze. The 1969 fire wasn’t the first time the Cuyahoga burned. There were much larger fires on the river in 1936 and 1952....

      (pp. 89-104)

      Ships are among the most alluring of all human inventions. A freighter moving through the high seas invokes a sense of wonder for observers on land. It is difficult for non–shipping types to comprehend the physics and technology that enable a vessel longer than two football fields to carry 50 million pounds of cargo, or more, and not sink like a stone. But the romanticism surrounding ships is more than a reverence for technology. Freighters entering ports from distant waters stoke the curiosity and imagination of ship lovers and landlubbers alike. Where has a given ship come from? What...

      (pp. 105-120)

      Lake Erie was the Rodney Dangerfield of the Great Lakes: It got no respect. Once derided by comedian Johnny Carson as “the place fish go to die,” Erie struggled to escape the stigma of a lake that was so polluted in the 1960s, some people mistakenly declared it dead. A half century later, Erie supported the most vibrant fishery among the five lakes. It contained just 2 percent of the six quadrillion gallons of water in the Great Lakes, but was home to about half the fish (by weight) living in the freshwater seas in 2000. To those unfamiliar with...

    • 09 RUFFE SEAS
      (pp. 121-136)

      The calendar said it was the first day of autumn, but the air temperature felt more like summer when I joined an international trade delegation on a tour of the Port of Duluth. Beads of sweat rolled down our faces as we cruised slowly past massive freighters and towering grain elevators aboard the 92-foot-longVista Star. With the temperature spiking at 81 degrees—19 degrees above normal—several of the visiting grain buyers took shelter in the tour boat’s spacious lounge to avoid a sunburn. For the record, it was September 24, 2007, the fourth week in a month that...

      (pp. 137-152)

      It has often been said that regulations are only as effective as the people enforcing them. It is one thing to post a speed limit of, say, 70 mph on a highway. But if the police don’t enforce the law, people drive as fast as they want. Similarly, it was one thing for the U.S. government to tell the shipping industry that every transoceanic freighter had to conduct an open-ocean ballast water exchange before entering the Great Lakes. Enforcing that mandate, a cornerstone of the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990, was another story. Ballast water exchange...

    • 11 MELTDOWN
      (pp. 153-166)

      The evening was young and there were few other boats on Lake Michigan when I joined research scientist David Jude and two of his colleagues for an unusual fishing expedition along a deserted stretch of beach in South Haven, Michigan. We ventured into the lake’s placid waters in an 18-foot Boston Whaler cluttered with fishing nets, small buoys, and weights to hold the gear in place once it was deployed. The mission was simple: trap fish in a series of gill nets to get a snapshot of what lived in the nearshore waters of the lake. Jude had performed this...


      (pp. 169-180)

      For a few days each summer, when still winds allowed the surface of southern Lake Ontario to lie flat, the lake’s steel blue water took on a clarity approaching that of the Caribbean Ocean. The phenomenon became prevalent in the mid-1990s along Grand View Beach, a narrow spit of land on the outskirts of Greece, New York. Grand View Beach was a popular summer retreat for tourists and dozens of families who, through good economic fortune or inheritance, owned cottages within a stone’s throw of the lake. For them, sweltering summer days were countered by dips in the lake’s cool...

      (pp. 181-192)

      Family vacations spent at lakes are supposed to create pleasant memories, lasting mental images of giddy children leaping off docks and stressed-out parents frolicking with their kids in a sort of liquid heaven. The best trips can turn even the most unfortunate mishaps into treasured, comedic adventures. Broken-down vehicles and bouts of stomach flu that made everyone miserable become the stuff of family legend and laughter. Yet, there are times when tragedy prevails, trumping the highlights of the most revered vacations. Such was the case in 1999, when a Vermont family headed to a cabin on the shores of Lake...

    • 14 A CRUEL HOAX
      (pp. 193-206)

      The narrow peninsula of Long Point stretches into the eastern basin of Lake Erie like one of the long, boney legs of great blue herons that frequent its coastal marshes. The 24-mile-long sand spit is a haven for migratory birds and the birders who stalk them with binoculars and spotting scopes. Its tree-lined dunes, miles of undeveloped shoreline, and sprawling wetlands provide refuge and food for migratory birds that cross Lake Erie every spring and fall en route to summer nesting areas or winter retreats. Campers flock to Long Point Provincial Park in southwestern Ontario in the summer to soak...

      (pp. 207-220)

      Every September, after most Great Lakes anglers call it a season to avoid foul autumn weather, teams of biologists head out on the lakes for a series of unusual fishing trips. The month-long excursions take them, year after year, to the same fishing spots—scattered across the vast expanse of the lakes. Their targets are not the coveted chinook salmon, elusive steelhead, or whitefish. The biologists go fishing for bottom feeders, those inglorious species of prey fish that support the more glamorous predators on the upper rungs of the food chain. The crew from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes...

      (pp. 221-230)

      The fishing tugThomas A. slipped out of the northern Michigan village of Naubinway long before sunrise, its steel hull slicing through the glass-flat waters of northern Lake Michigan. A canopy of stars illuminated an ebony sky that enveloped the lake in darkness. The only sound was the steady roar of a diesel engine that powered the 46-foot-long commercial fishing boat operated by members of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Captain Brady Baker put the boat on autopilot, lit a cigarette, and focused his attention on navigational devices that cast a green shadow on his mustachioed face. It was...

    • 17 PARADOX
      (pp. 231-244)

      Biologist Tammy Newcomb stood before a large group of anglers at a fisheries workshop in Michigan and asked a most provocative question: Was the changing character of Lake Huron’s fishery in a state of pandemonium or promise? The response from the crowd of charter-boat captains and master anglers? Silence. No one dared to venture a guess as to which scenario most accurately described the hurricane of ecological changes swirling in the third largest of the five Great Lakes. The year was 2008. Over the course of a decade, a confluence of human-induced events—overstocking of salmon, decreased quantities of prey...

    • 18 FEAR THIS
      (pp. 245-256)

      The guard at the New York side of the border crossing in Niagara Falls stared me down with the requisite skepticism as my car inched toward his booth. He wasted no time with small talk, immediately popping the question that always made me nervous.



      “Where you from?”


      I had nothing to hide. Still, the possibility of the guard searching my vehicle was enough to make my heart race and cause beads of sweat to form on my brow. I presented my driver’s license and birth certificate to the guard. He stepped into the booth to check my...

  10. 04 BETRAYAL

      (pp. 259-270)

      William Jefferson Clinton was in the second half of his eight-year term as president of the United States when he waded into the quagmire of science and politics otherwise known as “the war on invasive species.” After six years in office, Clinton finally got the message from scientists who for years had pleaded with the federal government to get serious about dealing with foreign organisms that endangered human health, ecosystems, and the nation’s food supply. The president chose to attack the problem with one of the most powerful tools at his disposal: an executive order. Clinton directed officials in the...

    • 20 WHO’S IN CHARGE?
      (pp. 271-286)

      In the fall of 2007, I received a surprising e-mail from an official in Transport Canada’s Marine Safety Division. I had been pestering Michel Boulianne for permission to observe how government officials inspected the ballast tanks of transoceanic freighters when the ships arrived in Montreal. You would have thought I was asking for a private meeting with the Canadian prime minister. After several e-mail exchanges, Boulianne finally relented. We agreed on a date in September when I would meet his crew at St. Lambert Lock. There, Transport Canada officials would allow me to board an ocean freighter with them and...

      (pp. 287-310)

      A cadre of shipping industry officials and scientists gathered in Superior, Wisconsin, on a summer day in 2006 for a historic event: the christening of a $3.5 million facility to test the efficacy of ballast water treatment systems. The project, known as the Great Ships Initiative, was a collaboration between maritime interests, university scientists, and government agencies that regulated the shipping industry. Organizers hailed it as the world’s first facility designed specifically for testing how well chemical biocides, filtration, ultraviolet light, and other technologies eradicated aquatic organisms in ballast water. Shipping officials called the endeavor an industry-led effort, though government...

      (pp. 311-328)

      The workday was in its first hour when my office telephone rang, delivering what would prove to be one of the most disturbing twists in the sordid tale of Great Lakes invasive species. I hadn’t finished uttering the requisite one-word telephone greeting when the caller’s staccato words burst into my ear. “Hey, it’s Gary. You gotta get over here. Hurry. You won’t believe your eyes.” I didn’t need caller identification to know, within a nanosecond of taking the call, that the person on the other end was Gary Fahnenstiel. The senior ecologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great...

    • 23 WESTWARD HO!
      (pp. 329-348)

      Two scuba divers with the California Department of Water Resources entered a canal at the Dos Amigos Pumping Plant on a mild winter morning in 2007. The facility, about 100 miles southeast of San Francisco, was one of 17 massive pumping plants in California’s sprawling water collection and distribution system. California siphoned water from mountains and rivers along the Nevada and Arizona borders and transported it through hundreds of miles of canals to slake the thirst of enormous farms and star-crossed cities along the Pacific Coast. Transporting water from the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Colorado River to Los Angeles...

      (pp. 349-362)

      A thin layer of fog hovered above the surface of Lake Superior by the time I set out on a five-mile hike to the top of Greenstone Ridge, the basalt spine of Isle Royale National Park. The archipelago in northwest Lake Superior was one of the Great Lakes’ most serene places. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, Isle Royale offered visitors a true nature experience. There were no wheeled vehicles of any kind, no towns, barking dogs, or television. Electricity was only available at a couple of hotels that National Park Service concessionaires operated for those visitors unwilling to go...

    (pp. 363-376)

    Rarely do professional sporting events provide lessons in ecology. Sports are about competition, teamwork, endurance, and athletes overcoming obstacles to achieve greatness. Once in a while, though, athletic competitions provide a stage for lessons that have little to do with strength and determination, wins or losses. Such was the case on an unusually warm October night in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2007. It was October 5. The Cleveland Indians were battling the mighty New York Yankees in an American League playoff game. The stakes were high—the winner of the series would advance to play in the World Series, the apex...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 377-402)
    (pp. 403-406)
    (pp. 407-416)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 417-431)