Great Lakes Region

Current projects | Completed projects

The health of the Great Lakes depends on the health of the entire ecosystem: the Great Lakes themselves, plus coastline, wetlands, rivers, watersheds, and the flora and fauna that call these places home. Many opportunities exist to protect and restore critical ecosystem elements even as we strive to improve our understanding of emerging issues and their impacts. Toward this end, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has made habitat and species protection one of its five priorities.

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NOAA and partners completed a project to restore fast-flowing rapids on the St. Marys River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. See web story. The work has helped increase the number of juvenile fish in the area, according to a recent study published in the journal Restoration Ecology.

Responders’ Need for Accurate ESI Maps: Are We Prepared for Oil Spills at Niagara Falls and Mackinac Island?: So what would happen if there was an oil spill at Niagara Falls or Mackinac Island? This possibility is why NOAA develops Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps to prepare for potential oil spill disasters.

Habitat Restoration in the Great Lakes: By the Numbers: Check out these key numbers that help illustrate the scope of NOAA’s habitat restoration work in the region through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

GLRI Story Map: Since 2010, NOAA has worked through the GLRI to restore habitat across the Great Lakes region. NOAA projects have improved fish passage, cleaned up contaminated debris, restored coastal wetlands, and removed invasive species. Take a virtual tour of some of these major restoration projects from across the region, from the Buffalo River in New York to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

GLRI story map


Habitat Restoration in the Great Lakes: By the Numbers: Check out these key numbers that help illustrate the scope of NOAA’s habitat restoration work in the region through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.


Read on to learn more about NOAA’s Habitat and Wildlife Protection and Restoration projects:

Collaborative Management of Emerging Littoral Issues in Wisconsin Waters of Lake Superior

In partnership with NPS and Wisconsin state offices, NOAA is organizing a collaborative benthic mapping effort to address significant littoral management issues that have emerged in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Superior. Mapping activities will address critical gaps in current knowledge and management applications. Subsequent modeling activities could be used to identify and protect shoreline sites vulnerable to lake level changes and coastal erosion.

Environmental Sensitivity Data Update for High Spill Risk Areas

This project will update the Environmental Sensitivity Index maps for the Straits of Mackinac, and the St. Clair-Detroit River System. When an oil spill occurs, ESI maps help responders meet one of the main response objectives: reducing the environmental consequences of the spill and the cleanup efforts. Additionally, planners use ESI maps before a spill happens (such as during a drill and for mandated area contingency plans) to identify vulnerable locations, establish protection priorities, and identify cleanup strategies. State and federal agencies throughout the Great Lakes use ESI maps for both response planning and real-time response decisions.

Great Lakes Shoreline Assessment

To complement ongoing work under the nearshore framework, this project is aimed at identifying shared coastal management principles and goals (within each state and possibly across states). Partners will develop a list of available data and resources (for each state) for which to focus site-specific restoration work and provide a list of reach-by-reach coastal and nearshore habitat restoration projects for funding in FY21 and beyond. Projects will target nearshore habitat benefits for lake trout, walleye, lake sturgeon, yellow perch, cisco, and migratory birds and ducks.

Habitat Restoration through NOAA’s Restoration Center

With the support of the GLRI, NOAA’s Restoration Center has been able to support multiple habitat restoration projects in Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) and other targeted areas that improve fish and wildlife habitat and populations. NOAA’s Restoration Center provides expertise to inform restoration planning, design, and implementation. It helps conduct on-the-ground restoration work and assists with project evaluation to inform future restoration efforts. Habitat restoration projects are implemented through two methods: an annual competition and through established multi-year regional habitat partnerships. Restoration project types include fish passage, marine debris removal, hydrologic reconnection, in-stream and nearshore habitat improvements, and invasive species removal.

Monitoring and Restoration of Lake Superior Coastal Wetlands Manoomin

This project provides technical assistance and support for the protection and restoration of wild rice that is culturally significant to tribes in the Lake Superior basin. NOAA worked with BIA and tribal communities to exchange cultural and traditional knowledge with current scientific data collection and analysis to best determine where to focus restoration efforts and to monitor the current distribution within coastal wetlands.

Sustainable Nearshore Management Solutions to Prevent Critical Habitat Loss at Illinois Beach State Park

This project lays the foundations for basin-scale sediment management planning and understanding of Lake Michigan’s nearshore physical processes. Partners will work toward long-term resilience strategies aimed at mitigating coastal erosion of critically unique coastal habitats and protection of shoreline sites vulnerable to lake level changes and coastal storms.

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