The Great Lakes contain a remarkable 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, thus shaping our culture and economy, supporting industry and tourism, supplying drinking water and food to millions of people, and providing flood and drought mitigation.
But the Great Lakes region supports more than just millions of people; it also sustains an astonishing array of plants and animals – 46 species that are found nowhere else in the world, and 279 globally rare plants, animals and natural communities.
Defining Ohio’s northern border, Lake Erie is inexorably tied to the state’s economy and quality of life. The lake supplies more fish for human consumption than the other four Great Lakes combined, provides drinking water for 11 million people, generates $9 billion in tourism revenue annually, and is critically important for wildlife, including the millions of migratory birds who pass through the region every year.
What You'll See
Lake Erie has three distinct basins:
- Western Basin: Shallow and highly productive area from Toledo to Sandusky. Major concern in this basin is excess nutrient loading that drives harmful algae blooms.
- Central Basin: Includes watersheds from the Huron River to Conneaut Creek with the land use ranging from dense urban cores to agriculture and forests. The low oxygen "dead zone" stormwater runoff from urban areas, and habitat fragmentation are all concerns in this basin.
- Eastern Basin: Deepest area of Lake Erie that extends from Erie, Pennsylvania to the eastern edge of the lake in Buffalo, New York. Blooms of Cladaphora, a filamentous algae that grows on rocks and lake bottom are a major concern in the Eastern basin.
Visitors to the Lake Erie region can view some of these valuable wetlands by visiting places like the Conservancy’s Morgan Swamp Preserve in northeast Ohio, Great Egret Marsh Preserve along the coast, or Kitty Todd Preserve in northwest Ohio.
Linked to main tributary rivers, these preserves benefit Lake Erie by helping to remove pollutants. They also host an astounding array of biodiversity, providing visitors with the opportunity to view some of Ohio’s rare plant and animal species.
Current Conservation Work
Great demands are placed on the Great Lakes system and the resources these lands and waters provide, while vast, are not limitless. Algal blooms, fish consumption advisories and beach closings are the warning signs of potentially devastating ecological problems in Lake Erie. Changes in water flow patterns, invasive species, unsustainable resource extraction and climate change are taking their toll. The ecological health of the Great Lakes is in danger, and that puts the quality of life and economy of many communities at risk.
The Nature Conservancy is working to protect Lake Erie and the rest of the Great Lakes region through land acquisition and restoration, education, and advocacy.
- The Conservancy is acquiring, restoring and managing land throughout the Lake Erie basin, including the Maumee River watershed - the largest tributary discharging into Lake Erie - and the Grand River watershed, another major tributary.
- We are advocating for policy initiatives that control invasive species.
- Conservancy scientists are locating and protecting stopover sites on the western shores of Lake Erie most critical to migratory birds.
- The Conservancy is working with partners to develop best practices for the early detection, prevention and management of invasive species.
- We are promoting through a variety of approaches the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change and exacerbate the problem of harmful algae blooms and urban stormwater runoff in the Lake Erie watershed.