Great Lakes Region

Current projects | Completed projects

The GLRI Action Plan III’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 U.S. 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

Sugar Island

Sediment eroding off of Sugar Island’s south-facing cliff has impacted local fish populations in the Detroit River. Funding will help to restore this important fish spawning habitat. (Photo: Friends of the Detroit River)

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

Mussel Watch Program (MWP) began monitoring nationally in 1986, the Great Lakes in 1992 and has amassed one of the most comprehensive chemical contaminant databases for biota, sediment, and passive water samplers including legacy, emerging and Chemicals of Mutual Concern. invasive mussels (dreissenids) and fish (gobies) are utilized to inform on contaminant levels across the Great Lakes basin (exception Superior). The program’s uniqueness is its ability to provide contaminant information at varying spatial and temporal scales and with a national context. Unlike fish and birds, mussels are sessile and precisely reflect environmental conditions from their collection site. They readily tolerate caging and relocation, which allows researchers to assess outfalls or other suspected hotspots. MWP data can inform on remediation and restoration effectiveness, and contaminant transport from rivers and land-based sources of pollution to lake nearshore and offshore zones. For example, the comprehensive spatial/temporal data of PAH fingerprints in mussels from rivers to open lake zones are useful to assess oil spill and potentially climate change impacts. More recently, the Mussel Watch database has grown exponentially with mussel metabolome data from sites across the basin to inform on adverse biological effects and basic mussel biology/ecology.

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St. Louis River DIVER Data Systems

This project continues the development of NOAA’s Great Lakes DIVER data warehouse, query, and visualization tools to meet the data system requirements of the SLR AOC managers. Under previous GLRI funding, NOAA incorporated the Great Lakes sediment chemistry data. Focus of this work tailors the database to SLR management. SLR managers and stakeholders identified their need for an accessible and visual database that can be queried to effectively manage and eventually delist their AOC. Also developed the necessary framework to include benthic invertebrate data and vegetation data. In FY16, we worked with our partners to finalize a prioritized list of additional functions and user needs for the SLR Data System. FY17 added functions to GL DIVER, delivering trainings, and receiving feedback from users that led to additional prioritized functions developed for GL DIVER. Current efforts are focused on the continued ingestion of new data and maintenance of the database for future use, covering data processing, entry, validation, and quality assurance into GL DIVER and trainings to SLR managers. These efforts support the process of removing BUIs and delisting the AOCs. DIVER is being used by managers in all AOCs in the Great Lakes region.

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Wisconsin Point Dune Restoration

The Wisconsin Point Dune Restoration project was specifically listed as a priority in the St. Louis River Area of Concern 2013 Remedial Action Plan update as an “Action Still Needed to Achieve Removal” of BUI 9: Loss of Fish and Wildlife Habitat. Completion of this project is contributing to rehabilitation of hydrologically connected habitats and treatment of invasive species. Funding received by NOAA in Fiscal Year 2015 was to complete a new project design and to conduct the necessary environmental compliance reviews.

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