How can something so small make a difference in such a big world?

Once upon a time, the first mussel arrived in the Great Lakes. Now, there are more mussels in our Lakes than stars in our galaxy. They've impacted everything from fisheries and water quality to shipwrecks and power plants. Like it or not, the cumulative effect of these little critters has made a big difference. 


Let's take a positive lesson from the mussels. Individually, they took hold. At first, they were barely noticed. But over time their influence grew. Collectively, they changed the world... 


Once people "get" the story of the mussels, they want to know what they can do to help. "What can we do to remove them?" "What do we do now that we know?" Or, as I recently heard from a youngster after he watched Life in Our Lake, "Can we take out all the fish from the Great Lakes, scoop out the bottom of the Lakes to remove the mussels, and then put all the fish back in?" The compassion and desire to help displayed is inspiring.


The work of scientists and resource managers suggests that mussels are here to stay. Barring the unforeseen (and Mother Nature is great at delivering the unexpected), mussels have reengineered the way the Great Lakes work. There is no going back. We must manage a changed system, understanding that it will undoubtedly change again. But we can do so as responsible stewards who have learned lessons from the story of the mussels.


There are at least three things you can do as a regular person.


1. Be an Educated Advocate. One action step you can do is to support policy efforts to prevent the invasion by the next nuisance species. You can add your voice to calls to support efforts to stop Asian carp from establishing in the Great Lakes. If politicians hear from you, they know this issue is on the public radar. Ballast water standards have come a long way over the last decade due to public, governmental, science, and industry action. Educate yourself on the current standards and the status of implementing them (the U.S. Coast Guard also hosts information on ballast water regulations). Unfortunately, contaminated ballast water is not the only vector that exposes our region to new invaders. (A multi-stakeholder consortium has also outlined public involvement opportunities to combat the spread of Asian carp.)


2. Lead by Example. Another action step is to change the culture about following rules intended to prevent the spread of invasives that are already among us. Most invasives spread because people spread them. Clean boats completely before moving them from lake to lake or river to river. Resist the urge to release aquarium critters into the wild or flush them down the toilet. As the DNR advertisements say, look out for aquatic hitchhikers! These rules and these are guided by good science and are meant to help everyone. If you want to take on a more active role, there is also the opportunity to engage in citizen monitoring through your local department of natural resources or groups like Riverkeeper.


3. Support Mussel Madness. Supporting Mussel Madness is another action step flowing from a desire to help our Great Lakes. The game does not remove mussels from our lake. It does not erect an impermeable barrier to protect the Lakes from Asian carp, killer shrimp, or the next deadly fish virus. It does not redirect the flow of the Chicago River. But supporting the creation and distribution of this game educates the next generation. It is a concrete action step you can take toward the collective creation of a hopeful society that enacts ounces of prevention rather than a hopeless society overburdened by its inability to pay pounds of cure. It is, quite simply, an investment in our future.


We can't scoop out the bottom of the Great Lakes like cleaning a fish tank. But we can play a game together with our children. We can learn from the story of the mussels. We can make a difference.


On Saturday, April 25, 2015 the community gathered to experience a morning of water films at the Avalon Atmospheric Theater & Lounge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We called the event Our Water. We shared the story of Life in Our Lake and a teaser of Mussel Madness. Coming together to share stories about our water is the first step toward collective action to make a bigger difference together than we could ever hope to make alone. Change takes time. But it starts with our choices. And, as with the mussels, sometimes the sum of lots of little change can grow insurmountably powerful.


If you want to help write a story of a cooperative, resilient, engaged Great Lakes community for our children and their children's children, please connect with me to support Mussel Madness.


Your choice is how something small can make a difference in such a big world...


Thank you!


Michael Alan Timm

Our Water Talkback

Avalon Theater 25 April 2015

Sandra Wicker shot this video of the Our Water talkback featuring Rich Meeusen of the Water Council, Milwaukee historian John Gurda, Jayme Montgomery-Baker of the Milwaukee Water Commons, and Dr. Rebecca Klaper of the School of Freshwater Sciences. I was also on hand.


We took audience questions following the multi-film morning showing and brought the discussion about water into focus from the perspectives of business, history, community, and science.

Cheryl Keopanya shot these photos from the Our Water event on 25 April 2015 at the Avalon Theater, where I showed off Mussel Madness.


We packed the house that morning, selling 200 tickets. The energy was good.


The Avalon also ran my eight-minute film, Life in Our Lake, as a trailer before Joss Whedon's Avengers sequel in May 2015. My film was seen by approximately 2,800 sets of eyes. 


For press about Our Water and Mussel Madness, check out the WUWM radio story by Susan Bence.