Unstudied for decades, Lake Michigan’s Morgan Shoal has been surveyed for the first time by researchers at Shedd Aquarium, according to the Chicago Tribune. The 32-acre sheet rests in shallow waters about 300 feet off the Chicago shoreline.
Though regular passersby probably think that Morgan Shoal is just a bunch of algae-covered rocks, there’s actually an incredible amount of life it supports. To document the shoal’s biodiversity, scientists used underwater cameras and buoyed nets.
They also made scuba dives to visually document what lifeforms lurk beneath the surface. Drones have been used in past efforts to image the shoal from the sky.
Their survey, completed in spring 2016, revealed a surprising amount of biodiversity in Morgan Shoal. Quagga mussels cover what was once open rock and native fishes like sculpin and darters weren’t found, but 15 other species of fish were documented swimming around the area in the winter.
In addition, researchers were stumped to find a large number of longnose suckers, a threatened fish in Illinois that is growing increasingly rare. Instead of only finding a few, they netted nine on just one day.
For more on researchers’ efforts, check out this video. It explains more about the shoal’s mysteries, including that the shoal is made out of a rock called silurian dolomite. That type of rock is made from coral reefs and sponges compressed over the course of hundreds of millions of years, hinting at Morgan Shoal’s ancient beginnings as part of the ocean.
Other inhabitants of the shoal include the famous Silver Spray shipwreck, a steamer that used to ferry passengers to and from cities on Lake Michigan like Whitefish Bay, Wisc. and Milwaukee. It ran aground on the shoal on July 15, 1914.
For three days, the ship listed while its crew refused to leave. Even the cook stayed onboard to prepare stew for the crewmen. But after efforts to free the grounded ship failed, the passengers were rescued and waves eventually tore it apart.
Featured Image: A diver photographs the German freighter Nordmeer, which ran aground in Lake Huron in 1966 and eventually sank in 40 feet of water. (Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary)
Are you surprised that Morgan Shoal holds so much biodiversity? Is the area worth protecting as an underwater park? Please consider leaving a comment to share your thoughts!