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Explorer Amy Sacka on Why the Great Lakes Give Her Hope

In 2018, National Geographic Explorer Amy Sacka decided to document America's Great Lakes in an effort to inspire their protection. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we asked her to reflect on her work in this region, which continues to fill her with a sense of wonder for our world.

Words and photos by National Geographic Explorer Amy Sacka

Spending time on the icy expanses of the Great Lakes gives me hope and a sense of wonder. Sometimes when the ice is changing it makes strange noises that sound like whales or massive mysterious sea creatures communicating. One time, about a mile out, the small shanty I was in started violently shaking. “Ice earthquake,” the stranger I was with said to me, and then went back to fishing. The ice was expanding. I felt alive.

A village of ice fishermen have come out for "Cold as Ice," the annual ice fishing tournament, sponsored by the Lake St Clair Walleye Association. Last year, the tournament was cancelled due to warm temperatures. While the ice is still a good ten inches thick in many parts, the sponsors released a statement warning competitors not to drive vehicles on the ice. "An ATV driver didn't heed the warning and went in the ice earlier," says Charles Henderson, who is on the executive board of the association. "We took him in the trailer and bundled him up to make sure he was ok."
Photo by Amy Sacka
Ice shanties at a popular spot in Sebewaing, Michigan. The ice coverage for the Great Lakes is above the 30-year average this year, with Lake Huron at 38.77 percent coverage on Jan. 6. It was at 17 percent a year ago at this time.
Photo by Amy Sacka

Oftentimes, I’d watch the ice for hours. A little like collecting diamonds.

The ice is beginning to melt on Bell Bay, which feeds to Lake Huron, as temperatures begin to warm. On February 22, the Great Lakes had a total ice coverage of 45% according to GLERL.
Photo by Amy Sacka

All along my journey on the Great Lakes, I found myself sharing space and stories with strangers. One time a man opened his home to me on Lake Michigan. As I stood in his kitchen, I began reading the sayings he had plastered across his walls, like arteries of a value system. In our time together he told me he often thinks about the people who live on the other side of Lake Michigan. “Who are they?” he says, this body of water the divider yet something like a life force between them. “I’m going to the Michigan side of the shore in about a week,” I tell him. “I’ll wave at you. Look out your window.”

The sun rises over Lake Huron at the Tawas Point State Park on February 2, 2017. This weekend, Tawas will host its 68th annual Perchville festival, spanning four days. Much of the event takes place on the ice, including an ice fishing competition, polar bear dip and ATV races on the ice.
Photo by Amy Sacka
Ice cover on Lake Huron at Tawas Point State Park, during the weekend's annual Perchville festival, which is marks its 68th year. The winter festival during some years has had to cancel a variety of activities due to warm temperatures and the unsafe conditions of the ice. This year there is thick ice, as reports state that the Great Lakes ice cover increased during this weekend from 29.9% on Saturday to 43.2% Sunday. The 43.2% today is well above the highest extent of ice cover for the last two winters, but still much lower than the peak ice extent in the two winters before that.
Photo by Amy Sacka

Read more hopeful stories about our planet in our digital Earth Month Care Package.

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