Great Lakes Region


Area Overview

Muskegon Lake is a 4,149 acre inland coastal lake located on the west shoreline of Michigan’s lower peninsula, and connected to Lake Michigan by a navigation channel. Since the late 1800’s when Muskegon Lake was a center of the lumber era, several other industries were based there as well, including chemical and petrochemical companies, foundries, a coal-fired power plant, and a paper mill. In 1985, Muskegon Lake was officially designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an Area of Concern (AOC) due to water quality issues and habitat degradation from extensive shoreline filling, along with sediment contamination from compounds such as mercury and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

The EPA identified nine Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) in the Muskegon Lake AOC.  BUIs are defined as changes in the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of the Great Lakes system that are sufficient to cause harm to the ecosystem and organisms within it, and/or loss of human use of the system for drinking water, recreation, and other needs.  Below are the BUIs that were identified for the Muskegon Lake AOC:

  • Beach closings
  • Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
  • Eutrophication or undesirable algae
  • Restrictions on drinking water consumption, or taste and odor
  • Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
  • Degradation of aesthetics
  • Degradation of benthos
  • Restrictions on dredging activities
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
This image depicts bulldozers working to remove debris at the Muskegon Lake Area of Concern.

Construction taking place to restore degraded habitat at the Muskegon Lake Area of Concern. Photo credit: NOAA.

NOAA’s Role
  • The NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) Lake Michigan Field Station (LMFS) is located in Muskegon along the navigational channel connecting Muskegon Lake to Lake Michigan. The LMFS serves as NOAA’s base of operations for Great Lakes field research and the home port for GLERL’s research vessels, which operate throughout the Great Lakes.
  • GLERL has invested in researching the southern basin of Lake Michigan since the 1970s, which led to the establishment of the Long-Term Research (LTR) program based at the LMFS. GLERL’s LTR approach integrates a core set of long-term observations on biological, chemical, and physical variables, with short-term process-based studies for understanding ecosystem change.  Such information is essential for the development of new concepts, models, and forecasting tools to explore the impacts of various stressors on the ecosystem.
  • NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Atmospheric Research partners with several agencies and educational institutions to organize collaborative research in Muskegon Lake and forecast the impacts of invasive species, land use and climate change, including impacts of habitat restoration on food webs and fisheries in Muskegon Lake.
  • NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Atmospheric Research conducts ongoing sampling of benthos, sediments and bathymetry of Muskegon Lake.
  • The NOAA Habitat Restoration Center has been overseeing and funding habitat restoration work in Muskegon Lake with funds provided by base appropriations, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The total investment from these sources amounts to more than $11.8 million in federal funds.
  • NOAA funded coastal management programs, including the Michigan Coastal Program, address a wide range of issues, including coastal development, water quality, public access, habitat protection through the land acquisition project located in Muskegon, energy facility siting, governance and planning, coastal hazards, and climate change.
  • NOAA’s National Weather Service Forecast Office in Grand Rapids, Michigan cooperates on data collection and modeling efforts.
  • NOAA’s Office of Education has awarded funding to Muskegon schools through the Environmental Literacy Grant Program to support the Earth Science Environmental Service Learning Project which provides educator professional development, fosters community-school partnerships, and integrates service-learning into school curriculum.

The NOAA Habitat Blueprint

Protecting natural infrastructure—our global life support system—is vital to protecting our communities and their economies, as well as the fisheries and recreational opportunities along our coasts. With continued widespread loss and deterioration of coastal and marine habitats, communities are in danger of losing this infrastructure.  Through a program called the NOAA Habitat Blueprint, Congress has tasked NOAA with protecting habitat for fish, threatened and endangered species, marine mammals, and other natural resources within the coastal zone.

Muskegon Lake was selected as a Habitat Focus Area under the NOAA Habitat Blueprint because of the strong track record of federal, state, and local collaboration in the Muskegon area, the availability of comprehensive baseline data, and the active history of NOAA involvement in efforts to restore habitat for fish and wildlife that also benefit coastal communities.  Restoration activities are already demonstrating results through increased tourism, community access, and recreation throughout the Muskegon River watershed, with the hope for continued improvements through additional work.

For more information about the NOAA Habitat Blueprint and the Muskegon Lake Habitat Focus Area, check out this Fact Sheet or contact Felix Martinez, at


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