CMU studies where Great Lakes meet land

Documentary shines a light on the lakes’ threatened coastal wetland ecosystems

| Author: Jeff Johnston

A new hourlong documentary shines a light on coastal wetlands, a "last line of defense" for the Great Lakes and a major focus of research by Central Michigan University and other institutions.

Produced by WCMU Public Media in partnership with CMU's Institute for Great Lakes Research, "Linking Land and Lakes: Protecting the Great Lakes' Coastal Wetlands" chronicles the efforts of 15 universities and government agencies collecting data to help restore an ecosystem that has been 50% decimated throughout the Great Lakes basin. In many areas, the amount of coastal wetlands destroyed is 95%.

See for yourself

  • The public is invited to attend a free screening of "Linking Land and Lakes" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, in the CMU Biosciences Building Auditorium.
  • The documentary premieres on WCMU-TV at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16. It will air this fall on several Public Broadcasting System affiliates around the Great Lakes.

"These coastal ecosystems are critical to the overall health of the Great Lakes because they are the last line of defense against toxicants and pollutants coming off the landscape," said Don Uzarski, director of the IGLR and member of CMU's biology faculty. "We have lost more than half of these systems to date, and the Great Lakes — and therefore our economy — cannot afford to lose anymore.

"Since these ecosystems are critical, this research is critical."

The IGLR administers two $10 million grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct Great Lakes wetlands research. It allocates funds through this grant to 10 other universities, four governmental agencies and one private partner.

"Without this research, managers and lawmakers cannot make informed decisions regarding management, protection and restoration of Great Lakes coastal wetlands," Uzarski said. "The systems act as 'free-of-charge' water treatment facilities that we could not afford otherwise.

Making the documentary

The WCMU production team traveled the entire Great Lakes basin over 18 months, covering 5,000 miles in Michigan; Wisconsin; Indiana; Illinois; New York; Ohio; Pennsylvania; and Ontario, Canada, said Steve Smith, WCMU senior producer and marketing specialist.

More than 40 coastal wetland scientists, including Uzarski and CMU geography and environmental studies faculty member Marcello Graziano, share their expertise in the documentary.

"'Linking Land and Lakes' is one of the most aggressive projects ever undertaken by WCMU Public Television," Smith said. "The Great Lakes is the source of drinking water for 40 million people, and the quality of that water is linked directly to the role coastal wetlands play. Being embedded with research crews was crucial in adding context to the issue in a way that has never been presented."

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