For some, it may be hard to imagine a coral reef in any form other than colorful and in warm, tropical waters. However, researchers from the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL prove that this is just not the case with a new and rare look into a wild reef just of the shore of Lake Michigan. It is here that a 109 foot passenger steamer crashed into rocks in the water and sunk beneath the lake’s surface over 100 years ago. In fact, it has been reported that when water levels in the Great Lake are low enough you can actually spot the ship wreck from the infamous Lake Shore Drive. As Dr. Phillip Willink, a senior research biologist at the Shedd Aquarium stated, “As you’re driving up and down Lake Shore Drive and the water levels are low enough, you can actually see the remnants of this shipwreck.”
Innovative research yields rare footage of Great Lake reef
Shedd Aquarium researchers were able to reveal a novel, underwater glance at the reef found by a rocky outcrop just off the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Since most of Lake Michigan’s bottom is soft sand or mud, this rocky area creates a unique and ideal habitat for some of the rarest creatures in the region including prehistoric isopods and rare fish that are hard to find anywhere else.
From the video, you can see a team of Shedd divers investigating the ship wreck and the remains of the underwater coral reef at Morgan Shoal near the lake shoreline of Hyde Park. It is at Morgan Shoal that a 109 foot passenger steamer wrecked in 1914 in the shallow, rocky waters. The ship was made up of primarily wood which naturally broke up after two or three days after the collision with the rocks. However, even after the wood broke up, the iron boiler of the ship still remains to this day. Researchers believe that thanks to the ship sinking, it allowed the reef a hard, solid substrate to form on.
Check out this video from the project:
The Great Lakes: A Natural Resource
Growing up in the Midwest, in Northern Illinois to be specific, some of my best and fondest memories involve Lake Michigan and our many family vacations to the lake shore during the summer. As a child, I grew up learning about the Great Lakes in school and going camping near the sand dunes with my family. As a teenager I took trips with my friends to Chicago, and hung out on Oak Street beach while cooling off in Lake Michigan. In college I took ecology courses that focused on lake ecology and the great sand dunes surrounding the lakes. Lake Michigan has shaped a great deal of my life and that is why Shedd Aquarium’s Great Lake Team is so near and dear to my heart.
The Great Lakes are among some of the most pristine and precious natural resources around the world. In fact it is no doubt that the human race can’t survive without fresh water, it is an extremely valuable, limited resource not to be taken lightly. Over 40 million people in the United States and Canada like in the Great Lakes basin and thus depend on the lakes not only for drinking water but for employment and recreation as well. If your more of an animal person, then the Great Lakes should be important to you too because over 3,500 plant and animal species call the Great Lakes home (and those are just the ones we know about). In fact some of these 3,500 species exist solely in the Great Lakes and can be found nowhere else naturally in the world.
The John G. Shedd Aquarium and their Great Lakes Team does an amazing job protecting the Great Lakes by doing things like lake shore clean ups and innovative research like this story. It is all in the name of the people and wildlife that rely so heavily on the existence of the Great Lakes.
What you can do to help the Great Lakes
Whether you live near the Great Lakes or you don’t, it is important to protect and preserve such a magnificent and precious natural resource. You can click here to learn more about the Great Lakes Team at Shedd Aquarium and how you can help the Great Lakes. Whether its as simple as not letting the water run or as big as helping restore natural habitats and joining lake shore clean ups, there is no such thing as an effort too small.