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NOAA selects two areas in the Great Lakes for targeted habitat conservation efforts

Jerry  Slaff
(301) 427-8028
February 20, 2014

Today, NOAA announces the selection of two sites in the Great Lakes region as the next Habitat Focus Areas under NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint. Muskegon Lake in Michigan and the St. Louis River estuary in Wisconsin and Minnesota were chosen as sites where NOAA will prioritize its agency-wide resources to address habitat challenges.

“The Great Lakes support ecosystems of international significance, but their health has been impacted by pollution, habitat degradation, and the introduction of invasive species,” said John Bratton, acting director of NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. “Designation of these representative focus areas will allow NOAA to apply the combined strengths of the different parts of the agency to better understand the ecosystem threats present here, and to partner with others to devise effective ways to improve the habitat so that these areas can better support aquatic life.”

Both of these sites are listed as “Areas of Concern” in the Great Lakes, meaning that environmental degradation has impaired their ability to support aquatic life. The ultimate goal of these Habitat Focus Areas is to improve the habitat to the point that they will again support robust fish and wildlife populations, moving them closer to removal from the list.

Muskegon Lake, Michigan

Muskegon Lake is a large, inland coastal lake connected to Lake Michigan. It provides important nursery habitat for Chinook salmon, largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, yellow perch and threatened native species, such as the lake sturgeon. Extensive shoreline filling and pollutant discharges have impacted water quality, contaminated soil, and degraded habitat.

NOAA and its university partners have ongoing field research and monitoring programs in Muskegon Lake to study the impacts of water quality, contaminants and invasive species.  We also currently fund engineering and planning efforts for restoration projects in Muskegon Lake, which will address the fish and wildlife habitat restoration targets identified by the community. In this Habitat Focus Area, we will build upon the large-scale project, funded through the Recovery Act, which restored wetlands and stabilized shorelines throughout the area.

St. Louis River estuary, Wisconsin/Minnesota

The St. Louis River estuary runs along the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin and is home to the country’s busiest and largest bulk inland port. Unfortunately, it has a long history of environmental degradation and pollution. Discharges from leaking landfills, industry, chemical spills, and other sources have contaminated sediments, water, plants and wildlife in the estuary.

We are working with partners to remove marine debris from Radio Tower Bay. We are also providing funding to restore habitat on Hog Island and to monitor habitat health and aquatic vegetation migration.  In this Habitat Focus Area, we will build upon these current efforts and learn more about how climate change will affect the estuary.

NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint

The Habitat Blueprint is NOAA’s strategy to integrate habitat conservation throughout the agency, focus efforts in priority areas, and leverage internal and external collaborations to achieve measurable benefits within key habitats such as rivers, coral reefs, and wetlands. Under the Habitat Blueprint, NOAA selects certain Habitat Focus Areas to prioritize long-term habitat science and conservation efforts.

The goals in Habitat Focus Areas include:

  • Sustainable and abundant fish populations
  • Recovered threatened and endangered species
  • Protected coastal and marine areas and habitats at risk
  • Resilient coastal communities   
  • Increased coastal/marine tourism, access, and recreation

NOAA’s first Habitat Focus Area was California’s Russian River watershed. In addition to these areas in the Great Lakes, two sites in the Pacific Islands were selected as Habitat Focus Areas last month and NOAA’s first area in California is showing progress.  Three projects are already showing measurable results in opening coho salmon breeding grounds, turning gravel pits into habitat for salmon, and improving habitat to reduce flooding and recover fish populations.

Next steps for Muskegon Lake and the St. Louis River estuary include developing implementation plans for each area. NOAA will also begin the selection process for the next Habitat Focus Areas in other U.S. regions.