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Hi, and welcome to The Seedling! Lina Tran here, writing from my place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a short walk from Lake Michigan.

I just got back from Ohio, where I spent a few days with a group of fellow Uproot members learning all about water. Our host was the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources, in partnership with Uproot. We came from all over, from islands, coasts, and river valleys, to discuss the challenges and nuances of reporting on water. Obviously, water is a critical part of our work — maybe there’s too much, not enough, or it’s just not clean. 

Starting in Toledo, we made our way to a tiny island in Lake Erie: Gibraltar Island, a speck off the larger South Bass Island in the western basin of the lake. The trip took two buses, one ferry, and a much smaller science boat. Gibraltar is home to a dull gray water snake, which has bounced back from near-extinction (I saw three!), and the Ohio State University’s island lab. There, we learned about the biggest environmental challenges facing Lake Erie and its sister lakes. Lake Erie is plagued by invasive species, wildly swinging water levels, and harmful algal blooms largely fueled by agricultural pollution. These have tested local fisheries, eroded shorelines, and degraded the region’s air and water quality. 

There’s nothing like seeing things with your own eyes, and the workshop was invaluable, as a hands-on, on-the-ground (uh, water) experience. We collected a handful of data points for NOAA’s long-running records on Lake Erie and were warned to turn off the lights at night lest mayflies — a general indicator of water quality — swarm our rooms. We also met Alicia Smith, director of the community group Junction Coalition, who put people and places to the water issues we’d been learning about. Lead in Toledo’s pipes harms the children in her long-disinvested neighborhood, she said, while toxins from harmful algal blooms irritate her neighbors’ lungs and skin. 

It was invigorating to be in the company of so many other journalists of color. Many of the issues we report on — extreme weather, water insecurity, air pollution — disproportionately impact communities of color. Sometimes, they’re our own. We need diverse voices at the forefront of covering these challenges. 

Of course, there was time for fun too. We watched the sun disappear into the watery horizon, and on our last night in Toledo, caught a baseball game (go Mud Hens!). I jumped into the lake with new friends and bobbed in the wake of passing boats. We wore sandals so our feet wouldn’t get cut by invasive zebra mussels, which blanket the bottom of the lake. Those things are everywhere.

Lina Tran

Reporter at WUWM

What Are You Planting? 

This section of The Seedling is dedicated to featuring one of the many incredible members of The Uproot Project.

Siri Chilukuri, Freelance Journalist


How long have you been a journalists? 4 years

What is your beat/focus? climate change, culture and cities

How did you get started in journalism?  I joined my school newspaper as a way to fulfill a journalism minor requirement and I fell in love with it. Initially, I did the minor because I thought it might look good on a law school application but little did I know that plan wouldn’t work out the way I thought it would.

Where have you been published?  The Guardian, Teen Vogue, Them., InStyle, Vice

What is your favorite piece you've written and why?  My favorite piece I’ve ever written is actually not a climate piece but it’s about a group a Queer and Trans South Asian organization called Trikone based in Chicago. I wrote it for an internship I did at a local outlet called Block Club Chicago and it was just such a joy getting to cover my own community and help people feel seen. 

How did you become an Uproot member?  I remember when the Uproot Project launched and I immediately wanted to join so I joined the list and shortly after was added to the slack. I really admire the other journalists in here and getting to share space with them has been amazing.

What's a piece of advice you would give your younger self?  Be fearless! You’re not always going to do the exact right thing but don’t let fear dictate how you live your life.

What are you reading? Right now I’m reading Emily Henry’s Book Lovers and Sarah Thankam Mathews’ All This Could Be Different. I have started to read more Queer South Asian authors and it has been really emotionally fulfilling to feel recognized in those portrayals of Queerness.

What is your most essential ritual? My most essential ritual is listening to public radio in the morning. I’ve been listening to WBEZ every morning since I was little and as I’ve gotten older it’s been amazing to hear friends and colleagues on the radio alongside people I’ve listened to my whole life.

What's your ethos to journalism? My journalism ethos is centered on complicating narratives. I like to delve into the nuance of situations and evaluate the power structures, the people involved and see what is going on beyond a simplified lens. What’s the gray area? Who is being pushed aside for a perceived greater good?

Who is your favorite climate reporter? Kendra Pierre-Louis, her climate reporting was my favorite even before I knew I wanted to be a climate reporter. I think she’s got such an important critical perspective and we need journalists like that evaluate such a complex issue.

What's your favorite flower? Poppies! They are the flower of my birth month.

Favorite place you've traveled to? Probably India, it’s different to go to a country that you have family and roots in.

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