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Last week I met up with Dr. Steinman, Al, as I have known him for many years, to talk about the Institute’s important role in Muskegon County and a few of the top environmental issues of the day.

The Institute or AWRI as it is usually called, is on Muskegon Lake, located downtown between Heritage Landing and the Mart Dock. It was established in 1986 on GVSU’s Allendale campus initially, and then came to Muskegon when a facility was built on Muskegon Lake, to the delight of conservation-minded citizens, nongovernmental organizations, and governmental leaders. It provides research, education and outreach in service of our freshwater resources. An education and research vessel is housed in Grand Haven, the D.J. Angus, and the W.G. Jackson docks in Muskegon. They regularly take thousands of West Michigan students out on Muskegon, Spring, and White Lakes and Lake Michigan to learn about lake ecology. Not only has the Institute been hugely instrumental in assisting the cleanup of White and Muskegon Lakes, the facility and its scientists are known throughout the Great Lakes for top-notch scientific research, providing valuable information on a huge variety of critical ecological issues. 

We talked about water, and the value it offers to our health, economy, quality of life, and recreation. Al noted the current challenges in Ottawa County with lowered levels of groundwater in the middle of the county, and the possible consequences – he said we need to be thinking more about conservation. He also noted an emphasis of the Institute on a “blue water economy,” which features sustainable use of water as a central element of a strong economy.

I asked about the Asian carp and what he thought was the best approach to stopping the massive fish from entering Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. Strengthening the electric barrier in Illinois that keeps the fish out is the top priority in his opinion. He also mentioned a recent study showing that one of the Asian carp species, the bighead carp, contrary to current thought, could actually thrive in Lake Michigan by eating zooplankton and detritus (dead organic matter) on the lake floor. (Not just phytoplankton.) Not good news.

We talked a bit about climate change, or the climate crisis, which is the term I use now. We discussed the value of individual actions, as well as the need for government leaders to provide more policies and programs that would help individual action make a bigger difference. It is not easy, in a carbon centric economy, for people to avoid activities that create carbon emissions. We also talked how more than individual action is needed and that carbon reductions will need to be required of large contributing energy-using sectors.


AWRI and Al’s leadership have been crucial to environmental restoration in Muskegon County and have helped to put us on the map as a regional leader in scientific research and education. Watch this interview and you will see why!  Visit the AWRI website at .