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Davis Journal

Local poet and activist sits vigil with the Great Salt Lake

Mar 16, 2023 01:10PM ● By Peri Kinder

Bison, on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, are just one species that depends on the lake’s ecosystem. Local poet Nan Seymour held vigil for the lake for 47 days by living on the island to draw awareness to the lake’s perilous situation. Photo courtesy of Nan Seymour

Local activist, poet and storyteller, Nan Seymour, is bearing witness to the Great Salt Lake. From Jan. 18 through March 4, corresponding with the Utah State Legislative session, Seymour and her writing community held a vigil for the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere. 

In a small camper on Antelope Island, Seymour and other nature lovers lived by the lake, recording breathtaking sunsets, the heartbreaking loss of more than 400 aquatic diving birds, the majesty of bison roaming the island and the beauty of a lake fighting to survive.

“I’m not a scientist, not an expert, but someone who’s loved birds for a long time,” Seymour said. “I wasn’t aware of the genuine state of peril and now it’s accurate to call this an active collapse of the ecosystem…I was late to pay attention but when it caught my attention, it caught my full attention. The lake is the heart of this bioregion and hemispherically essential.”

This is the second year Seymour has held vigil at the Great Salt Lake. In 2022, she felt it was necessary to be physically present with the lake and respect it as a sentient ancestor, neighbor and even a mother. She said it helps to hold the lake in a relational way, not just thinking of it as a water resource. 

Scientists think there still might be time to save the lake and its ecosystem but it will take a concerted effort from legislators, farmers, homeowners, and stakeholders to ensure the lake’s survival. 

At 4,189 feet, the Great Salt Lake is at its lowest point in recorded history. Lawmakers had the opportunity to adopt a resolution, setting a goal of raising the lake to 4,198 feet, but it seems the resolution failed. 

“We have to change our ways and it’s not comfortable,” Seymour said. “We will have to think in ways we haven’t thought before and take levels of responsibility we haven’t been willing to take. We have to live within our means with water. Just like if someone you love is dying, you move in a different way.”

The Great Salt Lake is a migratory stop for 10 million birds and is a center of life in the region. As the lake’s level continues to drop, due to drought and human interference like water diversion and outdated water policies, essential aspects of the ecosystem will continue to die off.

Microbialites, essentially living rocks, live in the shallow water of the lake and metabolize life, creating a home for brine flies and brine shrimp that feeds the birds. As microbialites are exposed due to receding water, they die.

Increased salinity in the lake is killing keystone species. Toxic dust in the dried lake bed is dangerous to humans, birds and animals living near the area. Seymour will continue calling attention to the perilous situation and asked that others raise their voices by talking to their representatives, writing op-eds and walking along the lake shore to keep the conversation going.

“Speak up, even when it feels hopeless and helpless,” she said. “It’s always against the odds, always against the powers that be. The people who make it happen are instigators, just ordinary, broken-hearted people who persist. They are outside the realm of power and influence. They are just people with hearts that keep showing up. That’s how change happens.”