Milwaukee might be thousands of miles from an ocean, but boy do we have a Great Lake. Our city sits on the western coast of Lake Michigan, which stretches beyond the horizon for about 118 miles. So you can excuse us Cheeseheads for feeling like we live by the sea. And now scientists are concerned the Great Lakes might be becoming similar to the oceans in a different way. Current readings indicate that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing ocean acidification. The same thing might be happening to the Great Lakes, according to Galen McKinley, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And he’s not alone.
The Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM) takes on acidification—and other threats to our waters—in an entertaining way. The ZSM and Kohl’s Wild Theater—the ZSM’s live theater program—have developed a new play called “Dr. McGhee Learns about the Sea.” This 15-minute play is one of four eco-themed shows performed daily for free at the Milwaukee County Zoo, thanks to a partnership between Kohl’s Cares and the ZSM. In a sense, there’s a little bit of World Oceans Day every day at our Zoo, thanks to “Dr. McGhee.” A musical, the show highlights what can happen to sea creatures when their marine ecosystem is disturbed. As Dr. McGhee’s clinic is overrun by sick sea creatures, he must figure out the cause of their illnesses. Why is a decorator crab’s new shell flimsy? What’s irritating the gills of a leopard shark? Is there anything you can do in Wisconsin to help animals that live hundreds of miles away in the oceans?
“Yes!” That’s what Dr. McGhee learns. But to solve a problem one must first identify it—something the self-declared “Certified Genius” can’t seem to do. Thankfully his nurse is on the ball. She notices that the sea creatures in the good doctor’s waiting room (a horn shark, a harbor seal, a giant Pacific octopus…) all live in a kelp forest. So Dr. McGhee and Nurse visit a kelp forest to learn more. They notice the kelp looks sick, but they don’t know why. The water has become more acidic, explains an otter, because of human carbon emissions. “A lot of it comes from the power you humans use to generate energy,” says Otter. In the end, Dr. McGhee and Nurse discover how everyone—even children—can help. Says Dr. McGhee: “You can help all ocean habitats, from kelp forests to coral reefs, by reducing the amount of energy you use at home. Small steps like turning off lights or the water faucet can help reduce ocean acidity.”
Guest Blogger Zak Mazur is the Publications & Media Relations Specialist at the Zoological Society of Milwaukee