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Wildlife & Fish Habitat Great Lakes

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This precious resource has severely degraded and is in need of immediate on-the-ground action.

The Great Lakes Region, the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, holds 95% of the United States’ surface fresh water. This region has more than 4,650 miles of shoreline and 30,000
islands. More than 30 million people live in the area.

The Great Lakes Basin provides drinking water, transportation, power, recreational activities, and over 1.5 million jobs. This precious resource has severely degraded over the years and is in need of immediate on-the-ground action.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has several priorities to improve habitat and water quality:

  • Cleaning up Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOC)
  • Preventing and controlling invasive species
  • Reducing runoff that contributes to algal blooms
  • Restoring habitat to protect native species

Drinking Water Quality

Long-term goals for the Great Lakes region:

  • Fish are safe to eat.
  • Water is safe for recreation.
  • There are safe sources of drinking water.
  • All Areas of Concern are delisted.
  • Harmful or nuisance algal blooms are eliminated.
  • There are no new self-sustaining invasive species.
  • Existing invasive species are controlled.
  • Native habitat is protected and restored to sustain native species.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is working to protect and restore the Great Lakes.

Addressing Various Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes Region

Areas of Concern

Although significant process has been made in reducing sources of pollution over the last 30 years, several toxic substances are still above levels that are safe for humans and wildlife. High
levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have led to fish consumption advisories in all five Great Lakes.

Pollutants largely left over from past practices, referred to as “legacy contamination,” continue to circulate through the ecosystem. They have also led fish consumption advisories in the Great
Lakes. And newer chemicals, such as pharmaceuticals and flame retardants, are now being detected in Great Lakes waters and require immediate attention.

Some of the efforts underway include:

Invasive Species and Sources of Pollution in the Great Lakes Region

Invasive Species

The Great Lakes ecosystem has been severely damaged by more than 180 invasive and non-native species. Species such as the zebra mussel, quagga mussel, round goby, sea lamprey, alewife, and purple loosestrife reproduce and spread.

These invasive, non-native species degrade habitat, out-compete native species, and short-circuit food webs. Invasive species can also threaten human health, and have a severe negative impact on fisheries, agriculture, and tourism.

Some of the efforts underway include:

  • Asian Carp Risk Assessment. Due to their voracious, rapid rate of reproduction, and relatively large size, Asian carps have had devastating impacts on native fish populations.
  • Regional Ecosystem Prediction incorporates ecological research with risk and economic analysis to assess impacts of various future invasion scenarios.

Nonpoint Source Pollution

Excessive nutrient loading, agricultural and stormwater runoff, industrial pollution, and wildlife waste can all degrade water quality of the nearshore coastline. Harmful algal blooms are a
concern in the Great Lakes region and are a result of excessive nutrient loading from runoff.

Excess nutrients, bacteria, and other pathogens from runoff can pose a serious threat to public health and threaten the integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem

Some of the efforts underway include:

Habitat and Species

The health of the Great Lakes depends on the health of the entire ecosystem: lakes, nearshore coastline, wetlands, rivers, watersheds, and the wildlife and plants of the basin.

The primary effort underway is Coastal Land Conservation. Although the Great Lakes face many challenges, the region is fortunate of have thousands of acres of exceptional coastal and wetlands habitat. Purchase or conservation easements will protect these lands for future generations.

Great Lakes State government environmental programs

Great Lakes Project Resources:

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