MICHIGAN CITY — The W.G. Jackson research vessel and its five-member crew were Making Lake Michigan Great long before others began using a similar slogan.
Since 1998, the 65-foot specially designed research, outreach and education vessel, operated by the Grand Valley State University Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute, has visited 33 ports of call in Lake Michigan to bring light to the importance of healthy coastal ecosystems.
For the sixth consecutive year, the boat docked Saturday in Michigan City — thanks to funding from the city's Sanitary District. In keeping with tradition, crew members invited the public to come aboard and learn about the health of Lake Michigan waters.
Retired teachers Tom Jackson, of Montague, Michigan, and Ann Hesselsweet, of Grand Haven, Michigan, serve as the vessel’s science instructors and demonstrated to nearly 50 people how to collect Lake Michigan water and analyze its pH, conductivity, turbidity, plankton count, oxygen and alkalinity.
“We conduct a series of tests of contributing factors to the quality of the water as an ecosystem,” Hesselsweet said.
Janet Vail, the group’s research scientist, guided visitors in the vessel’s laboratory, while Jackson and Hesselsweet explained how researchers determine to what extent factors such as pollution, fertilizers, human and animal waste and road salt undermine the lake’s ecosystems.
“You can tell the health of the water by what’s living in it,” Hesselsweet said.
For example, turbidity — the measure of suspended solids, like dirt or algae — “changes the ability of organisms to live in the water,” Hesselsweet said.
The mission of the Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon is to provide education, outreach and research to enhance and preserve freshwater resources, Vail said. The institute is on Muskegon Lake in Muskegon, Michigan, as part of the Grand Valley State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Nearly 3,000 people per year participate in W.G. Jackson educational cruises, including participants of the 2018 Conference on the Environment, hosted at the Blue Chip Hotel Casino on Friday, who were treated to a tour and cruise Friday afternoon.
Vail said the research vessel, which is largely supported through endowments, often hosts schoolchildren for two-hour research tours.
“Our donors thought it was important to educate the next generation,” Vail said. “We think it’s important to get them excited about science. We’ve always been committed to education and outreach.”
The vessel, whose home port is Muskegon, Michigan, will next make its way to Hammond and Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, for more educational tours.