Document Type

Technical Report

Publication Date



Great Lakes coastal wetlands occupy a transitional position between aquatic and terrestrial environments. They provide important habitat for many species of plant, fish and wildlife and perform valuable ecological functions. Over the past two centuries, coastal wetlands have been increasingly degraded as a result of human activities. The size of coastal wetlands has decreased and many have disappeared. Recently, there has been growing recognition of their importance to the flora, wildlife and human society in the Great Lakes basin. At the same time, concerns are mounting over the increasing pressures on nearshore areas, and coastal wetlands in particular.

In order to act wisely to manage, conserve, and restore Great Lakes coastal wetlands, all stakeholders—from landowners, user groups, and non-governmental organizations to all levels of government in Canada and the United States—must understand the role of coastal wetlands in providing a healthy ecosystem for the sustenance of human and all other life. They must also understand the pressures affecting the coastal wetlands, the extent to which they are degraded, and the gaps in our knowledge.

This paper expands on the paper Aquatic Habitat and Wetlands of the Great Lakes (Dodge and Kavetsky, 1995) given at the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC) in 1994. That paper provided a general evaluation of the state of aquatic, inland, and coastal wetland habitats in the Great Lakes basin. The goal of this paper is to provide a more focused synthesis of the state of Great Lakes coastal wetlands. Specifically, it aims to answer the following questions:

  1. What are Great Lakes coastal wetlands and how in general do they work?
  2. What are the functions and values of coastal wetlands?
  3. What are the major pressures threatening them?
  4. What are the best ways to determine their health?
  5. What is the current state of health of coastal wetlands in the individual Great Lakes?
  6. What are the gaps in our information on the state of coastal wetlands and how can we best fill them?

The answers to many of these questions remain incomplete. This paper will address the important role of wetland science and research in the management, conservation and restoration of Great Lakes coastal wetlands.


This Background Paper is one of a series of such papers that were prepared to provide a concise overview of the status of the nearshore conditions in the Great lakes. The information they present has been selected as representative of the much great volume of data. They therefore do not present all research or monitoring information available. The Papers were prepared with input from many individuals representing diverse sectors of society. The Papers provided the basis for discussions at SOLEC 96. Participants were encouraged to provide specific information and references for use in preparing the final post-conference versions of the Papers. Together with the information provided by SOLEC discussants, the Papers have been be incorporated into the 1997 State of the Great Lakes report, which provides key information required by managers to make better environmental decisions.