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CMU research shapes Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan

Institute for Great Lakes Research scientists' data used to help identify sites for coastal wetland restoration


What is the current state of coastal wetlands surrounding the Great Lakes? Where should restoration efforts be focused? Are there invasive species impacting certain areas?

These are just some of the questions that scientists at Central Michigan University’s Institute for Great Lakes Research were able to supply answers for to the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force.

Federal government officials recently issued a second phase roadmap, Action Plan II, of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the largest conservation program in United States’ history that involves 15 federal agencies and the eight Great Lakes states in efforts to restore the lakes.

IGLR researchers supplied collected data to the task force that documented baseline conditions for fish, amphibian, invertebrate, bird, plant and water quality for all coastal wetlands across the entire Great Lakes basin. The data are being used to help determine the first 7,000 acres targeted for protection and restoration efforts over the next five years.

“The five Great Lakes contain nearly 20 percent of the world’s surface fresh water and Michigan has more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, which is more fresh water coastline than any other state,” said Donald Uzarski, IGLR director and professor of biology. “Coastal wetlands are extremely important because they trap, process, and retain nutrients and sediment, but unfortunately, half of them have been converted to other land uses.”

Building upon the initiative that began in 2010 by the Obama administration, Action Plan II will focus on funding projects that result in the protection and restoration of 60,000 acres of coastal wetlands through 2019.

Great Lakes coastal wetlands provide a critical habitat for many species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and an essential spawning and nursery habitat for many fish species of ecological and economical importance to Michigan’s $7.5 billion commercial and sports fishing industry.

“This initiative will provide additional resources so that we can make progress toward the most critical long-term goals of protecting and restoring this important ecosystem,” Uzarski said.

Action Plan II strategies include accelerated cleanup of contaminated rivers and harbors, methods of protecting the lakes against the effects of climate change and more aggressive treatments of toxic summer algal blooms in western Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay and Green Bay.

Restoration efforts will take decades to complete given the sheer size of the Great Lakes ecosystem. However, in addition to a 5-year, $10 million EPA grant, IGLR researchers are taking the lead and using their data to develop a mathematical decision-making tool that will aid restoration efforts by determining for the federal government which coastal wetlands can successfully be restored.

$1.6 billion has already been spent on more than 2,100 restoration projects on the lakes’ American side. Action Plan II’s initiatives expect to cost approximately the same amount.

The decision-making tool that scientists from the Institute for Great Lakes Research are working on will help ensure the greatest return possible on coastal wetlands restoration investments.

Central Michigan University is a recognized leader in studying the Great Lakes, with more than 20 faculty in the Institute for Great Lakes Research supported by state-of-the-art facilities in Mount Pleasant and at the CMU Biological Station on Beaver island. A $95 million Biosciences Building due to be completed in 2016 will provide enhanced infrastructure to support faculty and student research and classes.​

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