First, our eyes are drawn to the gorgeous cover and illustrations by Glenn Wolff. Soon, we want to look below the surface and begin to turn the pages. In her new book, The Accidental Reef and Other Ecological Odysseys in the Great Lakes(Michigan State University Press, 2021), author Lynne Heasley beckons us to look below the surface of the Great Lakes.
We take a deep dive – with a close eye on lake sturgeon, zebra mussels and other invasive species. We witness the destruction born of toxic pollutants and oil pipelines. With a mix of science and art, we are introduced to new ways of understanding the Great Lakes.
“A reef is a generic term beyond what you would hear about in the tropics,” Heasley says. “It’s a generic term for an assemblage, I guess I would say of rocks that can be used as spawning beds for different kinds of aquatic life. The reef that I’m talking about is a pile of nondescript rocks on the bottom of the St. Clair River that no one knew about but is a really important spawning site for lake sturgeon especially but also for walleye, round goby, and a whole universe of life.”
In her new book, Heasley invites the reader to look below the surface of the Great Lakes to explore alongside scuba divers, scientists, fishers and others simply enjoying the Lakes. We see the beauty but also the destruction.
“In terms of resource destruction, I make an argument in the book about the paradox of abundance,” says Heasley. “There’s such a great natural concentration in place that that very abundance and concentration is the seed of its ultimate destruction, for extraction at a pace and intensity before community can slow it down and look for more sustainable prospects.”
In order to preserve Michigan’s Great Lakes, Heasley urges the reader to first fall in love with the small corner with which we are most familiar, then take in a larger area, and finally think of the Great Lakes in all their entirety.Once we know a place, we love it, and once we love it, we will work to preserve it.
Heasley addresses the importance of a symbiotic relationship between science and the arts so that we might better know and preserve Michigan’s greatest resource.
“The arts are incredibly important to the development of the science but also to ways of knowing the natural world,” Heasley says.
Lynne Heasley is a professor of environment and sustainability at Western Michigan University as well as a photographer. She is also the author of A Thousand Pieces of Paradise: Landscape and Property in the Kickapoo Valley and coeditor of Border Flows: A Century of the Canadian-American Water Relationship.