Great Lakes Region

The GLRI Action Plan II’s first focus area is cleanup of toxic substances and Areas of Concern (AOCs).  Significant progress has been made in reducing point sources of pollution and concentrations of several persistent toxic substances.  Unfortunately, challenges still remain. Pollutants largely left over from past practices, referred to as “legacy contamination,” continue to circulate through the ecosystem and warrant fish consumption advisories in the Great Lakes.  Mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) fall into this category.  In addition, chemicals of emerging concern, such as pharmaceuticals and flame retardants, are now being detected in Great Lakes waters and require immediate attention.

AOCs are another major challenge targeted in both this focus area and in Habitat and Wildlife Protection and Restoration.  Past legislation has stipulated funds to restore degraded conditions in the 30 US Great Lakes AOCs, but it has not been enough to fully repair longstanding problems, including an estimated 43 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment.  The GLRI is providing much-needed resources to address these issues and delist remaining AOCs.

Read on to learn about NOAA’s contributions to this GLRI Focus Area:


Habitat Restoration in Areas of Concern

With the support of the GLRI, NOAA’s Restoration Center has been able to support multiple projects in Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) 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.

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Mussel Watch Expansion

GLRI funds have allowed NOAA to expand monitoring of chemical contamination in United States AOCs.  The tissues of mussels, which are filter feeders, are a valuable resource for analyzing chemical and biological contaminant trends.  NOAA’s Mussel Watch Program (MWP), which was established in 1986, represents the longest continuous contaminant monitoring program in US coastal and Great Lakes waters.  NOAA is using Mussel Watch data and contaminant modeling to increase knowledge about contaminants in Great Lakes fish and wildlife to support decision-making in the Great Lakes.

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Lake Sturgeon Health Assessment

PCBs and dioxins have been linked to cancer and other serious health effects in both animals and humans.  Lake sturgeon, historically one of the most important fish species in the Great Lakes, have suffered tremendously from PCBs.  Today, they are listed as threatened by the state of Michigan, in part because PCB contamination has inhibited their reproduction.  Thanks to GLRI support, NOAA has initiated a Lake Sturgeon Health Assessment.  Results will be applied to the assessment, cleanup, and restoration of contaminated sites to improve habitat quality and fisheries, particularly in AOCs.

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Mercury Air Modeling

GLRI funds are supporting a global atmospheric “fate and transport” model to estimate the amount of mercury deposited in the Great Lakes and, perhaps more importantly, pinpoint the source(s) of the toxic chemical.  This is vital for the health of humans, fish, wildlife, and the entire Great Lakes ecosystem.  Research results will be critical to identifying actions and policies to reduce atmospheric mercury loading in the Great Lakes.

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Great Lakes Sediments Database Expansion

High-quality data is critical for making good decisions to improve the environment and human health.  For almost 2 decades, NOAA has compiled Great Lakes sediment chemistry, sediment toxicity, and tissue chemistry through its free and accessible Query Manager database.  Thanks to the GLRI, NOAA has been able to expand its Query Manager database to include more data collected from the Great Lakes and associated tributaries and upland areas.  These datasets, which come from all Great Lakes states and multiple Federal agencies and are in different database formats, are compiled and standardized.  Under the GLRI, NOAA has also been able to build more sophisticated data query and delivery tools.  Both of these advances give decision makers and concerned citizens the ability to query across the most comprehensive and highest quality environmental contaminant dataset available.  The outcome: accelerated development, implementation, and monitoring of sediment cleanup and restoration projects in the region.

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Assessment of Areas of Concern Targeted for Remediation

NOAA Natural Resource Specialists will work with state and local partners to eliminate or mitigate the effects of contaminants in Areas of Concern (AOCs).  Habitat enhancement areas and restoration project opportunities will be identified within priority AOCs that can remove pathways and mechanisms by which contaminants impair beneficial uses. Specialists will also work with partners to conduct studies and design projects to achieve cleanup, preserve, and/or restore high quality habitat in Great Lakes AOCs.  Developing the next generation of projects to control contaminant sources and improve habitat will facilitate delisting of AOCs.

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