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Coastal Management in the Great Lakes Region
Erosion and Coastal Hazards | Maritime and Cultural Heritage | Coastal Dependent Uses
Public Access | Coastal Community Development | Habitat/Wetlands | Related Resources

 
State Coastal Programs: Illinois | Indiana | Michigan | Minnesota | New York | Ohio
Pennsylvania | Wisconsin
 

 
Erosion and Coastal Hazards

Reducing Erosion
The history of human settlement around the Great Lakes is marked by structures designed to stabilize shorelines, protect property from flooding and erosion, or to accommodate commercial navigation or industry. Historically, these structures were made of wood or metal pilings, rock, or reinforced concrete. Many Great Lakes shorelines are marked by seawalls, revetments, breakwaters, groins, and jetties. Over the years, such "hard" engineering has been recognized to have its own environmental consequences.

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Coastal Hazards
The Great Lakes coast confronts a wide range of natural hazards from severe storms, floods, landslides and shoreline erosion. All of these coastal hazards threaten both lives and property-a problem that becomes more pressing as the coastal population continues to rise. Coastal erosion, deposition, and flooding can also be exacerbated by lake level regulation, water diversion and coastal resource use.

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Maritime and Cultural Heritage

Maritime heritage in the Great Lakes has a broad legacy. That legacy includes physical resources, such as historic shipwrecks, lighthouses and prehistoric archaeological sites. Great Lakes maritime heritage also includes archival documents, oral histories, and traditional seafaring and ecological knowledge of indigenous cultures. Maritime heritage resources add an important dimension to our understanding and appreciation of the Great Lakes' rich maritime legacy, and make us more aware of the critical need for us to be wise stewards of the lakes.

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Coastal Dependent Uses and Energy Siting

Traditional Great Lakes coastal-dependent uses include navigation, fishing, coastal tourism, and recreation. The Great Lakes serve as the nation's fourth sea coast by transporting vital commodities to and from the nation's heartland and also as a prime destination for recreational boating. This waterborne commerce is critical to the regional and national economy. The Great Lakes offer outstanding tourism and recreation opportunities, ranging from pristine wilderness activities in national parks to waterfront beaches in major cities. The Great Lakes fishery consists of a blend of native and introduced species, some of which are regularly restocked. Common catches include lake trout, salmon, walleye, perch, white fish, smallmouth bass, steelhead and brown trout. Among the thousands of coastal communities, parks, lighthouses and places of interest to tourists, the Great Lakes coast features the world's largest body of fresh water and other unique natural phenomena ranging from magnificent dune-lands to majestic cliffs. A well-defined four-season climate supports many types of recreation from ice fishing, skiing and snowmobiling in the winter to golf, fishing, boating and swimming in the summer.

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Public Access

Citizens of the Great Lakes are drawn to the water's edge to swim, to fish, to boat, or simply enjoy the scenery. However, this desire to be near or on the water is not always easily fulfilled. Private waterfront development, dispersed access points, residency requirements, and limited capacity at recreational facilities can thwart people's ability to use and enjoy the Great Lakes.

Each year, more than 180 million Americans visit our Nation's coasts, spending an average of 10 days. The most recent (1999-2000) National Survey on Recreation and the Environment found that approximately 77 million people nationwide visit the beach each year and 48 million go motor-boating. According to that same survey, coastal states received 80 percent of all U.S. tourism revenue, accounting for over $560 billion annually.

According to a 2007 Great Lakes Commission study, an estimated 911,000 registered boats operate upon the waters of the Great Lakes. Among all eight Great Lakes states there are 4.3 million registered boats. These boats and their owners generate direct and indirect economic impacts, including the number of businesses and jobs they support and the secondary effects that ripple through local economies. In 2003 spending on boats and boating in the Great Lakes region totaled nearly $16 billion, directly supporting 107,0000 jobs. With secondary effects factored in, recreational boating supports 240,0000 jobs, $19 billion in sales, $6.4 billion in personal income and $9.2 billion in value added.

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Coastal Community Development

Coastal community development is that part of coastal management that ensures that growth and development do not occur at the expense of limited coastal resources. Coastal community development means working with local communities to plan for and accommodate new growth and development with a focus on supporting activities that depend on access to the coast or water-from ports and harbors, boat launches and beaches, to certain types of commercial development, like marinas and fishing boat charters.

The Great Lakes region is the third most populated coastal region in the United States with 27.5 million people, or 18 percent of the nation's total coastal population (as of 2003). Within the region, the 158 coastal counties constitute 28 percent of the total land area and contain 33 percent of the population, including 2 of the nation's 10 largest metropolitan areas: Detroit and Chicago.

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Habitat/Wetlands

The Great Lakes ecosystem's sand dunes, coastal marshes, rocky shorelines, lakeplain prairies, savannas, forests, fens, wetlands and other landscapes contain features that are either unique to or best represented within the Great Lakes Basin. Protecting and restoring these habitats is one of the key objectives of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA). The CZMA directs state coastal programs to "preserve, protect, develop, and where possible, to restore or enhance, the resources of the nation's coastal zone for this and succeeding generations."

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Related Resources
GLIN: Agencies and Organizations, Coastal Zones
GLIN: Dredging in the Great Lakes Region
GLIN: Land Use in the Great Lakes Region
Great Lakes BeachCast (leave GLIN)

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Updated: July 23, 2014
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