Navigation Menu+

Invasive Species in the Great Lakes

Posted on Apr 14, 2016 by in Conservation, Education

sea lamprey

Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted those big bodies of water next to us known as the Great Lakes. But did you know…the Great Lakes hold the largest supply of surface freshwater in the world? And that they provide drinking water to 40 million(!) U.S. and Canadian citizens? This is just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the importance of the Great Lakes. Also of relevance are the economic windfalls of these waters, and the lure of tourist attractions, plus a multitude of other factors that make them so valuable. But sadly, they’re facing major problems. Together, we have to figure out ways to keep these beautiful lakes safe.


One very big reason why the Great Lakes are in danger is due to invasive species. An invasive species can be described as an organism that has successfully established a population where it’s not originally from.

In all, there are around 180 invasive species causing havoc around these ecosystems. Each one makes their presence negatively felt in various ways. In general though, these pests will out-compete our important native species and push them out of their homes. The food chain becomes severely disrupted by these invaders, and the habitat overall degrades. Invasive species cause enough negative ecological impacts to the plants and animals that share their space, but what about us? Why should we care about them?

Most people probably don’t realize that we’re all paying for invasive species in our lakes, whether it be with our health or with our money. Overall, these invaders cost residents and businesses of the Great Lakes basin over hundreds of millions of dollars per year. We see spikes in our water bill when extra efforts have to be made to keep it clean and safe for drinking. Food prices will also increase due to invasives lowering the population of popular commercial eatery fish. Prices are going up, while our health might possibly be going down. For example, zebra mussels can contain harmful toxins in their systems, which are then passed up the food chain to larger animals consumed by us. Invasives can also be vectors for foreign diseases that we don’t yet have defenses against. The list of harmful effects goes on and on unfortunately.


One especially harmful invasive species can be viewed in our Aquarium’s very first tank you see when you walk in through the main entrance. Being the stuff of nightmares for some, the Sea Lamprey isn’t the prettiest fish to look at, and its effect on lake ecosystems is not pretty either. With its round, suction-disk mouth filled with sharp teeth, this lamprey has the ability to kill 40 or more pounds of fish during its parasitic lifetime. They’re not picky either, so their effect on the fishing business in the Great Lakes has been extreme.


Combating invasive species is no small task. It requires advanced and expensive methods to keep out and control these organisms. It will be much easier to accomplish this so long as new invasives aren’t popping up, which is where you at home come into play. When buying a live plant or animal from a pet store or bait shop, please do not release them into the wild at any time. It may be tempting and seem harmless to put your unwanted goldfish or turtle in the pond out back, but that’s exactly how invasive species problems can begin. The Great Lakes are a magnificent resource for ages of all kinds, and they’re under enough pressure from humans as is. The Lakes provide us amazing opportunities without having to drive for miles and miles, so the least we can do is protect them in return.

For more information, check out these great resources: