The Day Science Saved the Great Lakes… and Possibly the Lake Erie Water Snake

By Cameron Davis

Ohio State University’s Center for Lake Erie Area Research (CLEAR) and Sea Grant’s Stone Lab—the oldest freshwater biological field station in the U.S.—is perched on Lake Erie’s Gibraltar Island and the northwestern tip of Lake Erie’s South Bass Island. They look over Put-in-Bay and an expanse of water where U.S., British and Canadian navies battled famously 200 years ago next September. In the 1970s, CLEAR and Stone Lab helped beat back Round One of Lake Erie’s eutrophication scourge. More recently, they have proven that rare species—this time the Lake Erie water snake—can be brought back from the brink of extinction.

So, on August 2, I was excited to speak to this group at Director Jeff Reutter’s invitation about “The Day Science Saved the Great Lakes.” Of course, the title was figurative because scientific research alone can’t save the Great Lakes. And, because science is a process that unfolds over time; it can’t discover and help solve problems overnight, especially those of the magnitude we’re confronting in the region. The point of the talk was to show how science that better predicts incoming/oncoming threats to the Great Lakes gives policymakers and the public enough time to act.

I relayed “The Sad Tale of Joe Schormann,” (thanks to Dave Dempsey’s book, On the Brink) where our hero (Schormann) commissioned a study warning about the introduction of zebra mussels. Unfortunately, some seven years after the study, zebra mussels showed up in Lake St. Clair. Today, we have excellent examples of work identifying possible pathways for invasive species to get into the Great Lakes and their risk levels. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GLANSIS Watchlist funded in part by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is one example. Another is the Corps of Engineers’ GLMRIS Other Pathways Risk Assessment .

Science has an important role to play in saving the Great Lakes. Its role becomes even more important if it’s predictive and supporting key outcomes.

Has science influenced you recently in your everyday life, or made you want to change a behavior or attitude? Feel free to share it with me in the comment section. If you want to find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, visit, or follow me on Twitter (@CameronDavisEPA).

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.