Over the past 20 years quadrillions of invasive mussels have been sucking the life out of the Great Lakes. They’re trapping nutrients, the basic building blocks of life, on the lake bottom. Without nutrients, organisms of all kinds – from the tiniest plankton to the largest fish – are vanishing. In Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Ontario, vast offshore areas have become “biological deserts,” heralding one of the biggest changes to the Earth’s freshwaters in 10,000 years.
While the consequences for nature and people are severe, the loss of life has had an extraordinary side effect. It’s made the lakes far clearer than they’ve ever been before, giving us an incredible window into the depths. All Too Clear is an epic feature length documentary that uses the latest in cinema ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) technology to explore the effects of invasive mussels on the world’s largest freshwater lake system. From the nearshore to the most extreme depths, All Too Clear brings freshwater ecosystems into a spotlight usually reserved for marine/ocean environments.
This story has another twist that sets it apart from other depressing invasive species tales – the dramatic reduction of life in the offshore waters has opened up the space for a once-in-a-lifetime restoration opportunity. A remarkable group of native fishes, known as ciscos, are well adapted to exactly the kind of low-nutrient environment that mussels have created. These little fishes evolved in the Great Lakes and were once the most abundant species in them – the forgotten foundation of the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem. They almost entirely disappeared beginning in the early 1900s due to over-fishing and the impacts of settlement. Today, scientists and fisheries managers are making the multi-million dollar bet that if ciscos can be restored, the fish will be able to get enough nutrients moving again and jumpstart the whole system. But the race is on to get ciscos re-established before a new invader fills the vacuum.
To learn more about our pioneering use of underwater drones, check out the video below by our friends at Boxfish Robotics.