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.
For thousands of years, humans have relied on the vast natural resources offered by the Great Lakes region. To the north, large, unfragmented boreal forests burgeon, gradually giving way to the mixed and deciduous forests and tallgrass prairies established in the south. Throughout, marshes, swamps, bogs and fens dot the landscape, playing a critical role in the health of the immense water source to which they are linked.
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.
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.
February 16, 2011