Spring 2018 eNewsletter

Director’s Corner: A Message from CIGLR’S Director, Dr. Bradley Cardinale

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

This week, CIGLR welcomed its annual cohort of Great Lakes Summer Fellows. The Summer Fellows program, which has been ongoing for almost 20-years, places promising undergraduate (junior or senior) and graduate students with both academic and federal research mentors. Students work on Great Lakes research projects and undergo a career training program that equips them with the knowledge and skills to be the next generation of Great Lakes scientists.

As we welcomed nine enthusiastic new fellows, I couldn’t help but reflect on my first research experience in the Great Lakes. That experience came after I loaded my pick-up truck with all of my belongings, and drove from Arizona where I was born and raised, to Michigan State University where I began my master’s student project working on Great Lakes coastal wetland restoration.

I remember one of my first days spent sampling in the wetlands. It was blazing hot and the mosquitoes were vicious, so I was hurrying to wade out from the shore into waist-deep water where the cooler coastal breeze would help keep the mosquitoes at bay.

While I was making my way through the thick Scirpus vegetation to get to my invertebrate sampling locations, I came across a 5-foot log that was blocking my path. As I reached down to push the log out of my way, it submerged and darted away. As I stumbled backwards in surprise, water filling over the top of my waders, I had just enough wits to notice the snout of a longnose gar that was disappearing beneath the surface. It took a moment to realize I had just been duped by one of the largest, and coolest looking sit-and-wait predators in the Great Lakes.

An even more memorable experience took place later that year after warming water prompted the channel catfish to come into the coastal wetlands to spawn. The catfish would build large depressions in the sand and mud for egg laying, and would then patrol and defend their nests. Sampling during catfish spawning season was an experience I will never forget. The males would ‘attack’ my legs, ramming me to keep me away from their precious offspring. I would spend 8 or more hours in the wetlands being chased by 40-60 lb catfish, often getting knocked off my feet. As I became better at keeping my balance, I would taunt the male catfish by singing out loud “Biologists wobble but they don’t fall down” (inspired for no good reason by Hasbro’s tagline for its Weeble roly-poly toy for kids).

The first experiences that drew me to the Great Lakes were all about the amazing biology – cool species of fish, amazing turtles, beautiful coastal birds, and bizarre looking invertebrates that I had never seen or experienced as a boy growing up in a water deprived state like Arizona. Each day that I spent in Great Lakes coastal wetlands was an adventure that produced new things, and I couldn’t wait to sample them.

I wonder what first experiences will be most memorable for the new CIGLR summer interns. What aspect of the physics, chemistry, biology, or sociology of the Great Lakes will be most inspiring? What experiences will they remember most?

As the generation of Great Lakes researchers turns over from the old to the new, and we look to pass on the limited knowledge and wisdom we’ve gained, it’s worth asking yourself (and perhaps sharing with someone younger): What is your most memorable experience working in the Great Lakes?


Brad Cardinale
Director, Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research
Professor, School for Environment and Sustainability
University of Michigan