Stretching from the shores of Lake Superior, through the waters of Lake Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario, and through the banks of the St. Lawrence river, the Great Lakes are one of the natural wonders of the world. The Lakes and their connecting channels contain roughly 18% of the world’s surface freshwater, second only to the polar ice caps!
These freshwater lakes are our most precious natural resource, home to over 37 million people and host to a rich and unique diversity of plants and animals. The Great Lakes’ natural bounty have played a defining role in the region’s history and still support its primary economic activities, including agriculture, industrial manufacturing, steel production, shipping, commercial and sport fisheries, recreation and tourism.
The view of the horizon, as you cast your glance across any of the Great Lakes, is breathtaking. Perhaps even more amazing, though, is the incredible diversity of wildlife and plants that call the Great Lakes home. Bass, yellow perch, northern pike and the occasional lake sturgeon ply the open waters. At the water’s edge, perhaps a white-tailed deer, black bear, coyote or mink might stoop for a drink. Spotted sandpipers, common snipes and herons wade the coastal marshes. This diversity of Great Lakes wildlife is matched by an incredible variety of plant species, including seaside, arctic bearberry, jack pine and hickory.
The health of any one these treasured species depends on the health of its ecosystem. A healthy ecosystem is a functioning and dynamic one. Like a well-tuned machine, all of its parts are in good condition and able to do their jobs. Unlike a machine, however, where a single cog plays a particular role, an ecosystem consists of a diversity of species (known as biodiversity) that together make the system thrive.
The Great Lakes ecosystem encompasses the open Lakes, but it also includes: the coastal wetlands that serve as "nurseries" for many Great Lakes fish; the rivers and streams that supply the Lakes with water and nutrients; and the vegetated upland areas the provide us with homes and control river flooding and sedimentation.
From 2005 through 2011, Great Lakes Forever hosted a photo and art contest. The contest challenged artists to use their skills to showcase the beauty of the Great Lakes. To learn more about the 2011 contest, visit the contest page.