Report outlines biggest threats to Detroit River, Great Lakes ecosystems

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Posted at 4:28 AM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-06 07:37:23-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — People around metro Detroit and Canada are learning more about the conditions of some of this region's most beloved waterways, including the Detroit River.

The 11th State of the Strait Conference recently released its findings. The conference and its associated report are biennial — published every two years, meaning that for 22 years environmental experts and biologists from both the U.S. and in Canada have been working to make our water cleaner, healthier and more beautiful.

7 Action News reporter Jenn Schanz spoke with two of those experts who helped compile the report.

“You know if the Detroit River and western Lake Erie were patients, and they were going in for their annual check-up the doctor would probably say I have good news and I have bad news," said Dr. John Hartig, with the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor.

Dr. Hartig said some of the positive shifts to the Detroit River are likely noticeable to those enjoying a walk along the waterfront.

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“We’ve seen an amazing ecological revival with the return of bald eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, lake sturgeon," he said. There's also been a revival of lake whitefish, mayflies, and beaver according to Dr. Hartig.

"People will notice things. They will see the peregrine falcon on skyscrapers in downtown Detroit and on the Ambassador Bridge. They will see amazing walleye being caught and lake sturgeon in the river that they never would see before. So that gives us all hope," Hartig told Action News.

The report doesn’t just focus on the Detroit River; it's a bi-national effort to improve the health of the Great Lakes.

“This group focuses on the region of the United States and Canada that runs basically from Lake Huron through the St. Clair River through the Detroit River into western Lake Erie," said Steven Francoeur, biology professor at Eastern Michigan University.

Despite notable progress, there are still serious threats plaguing our waterways according to the report's findings. Challenges like climate change, algal blooms, invasive species, and loss of wetland habitat along the Detroit River are just a few of the main challenges listed.

“The Lake Erie algal blooms are an ongoing problem. Progress is being made," said Professor Francoeur.

He said with the guidance from these biennial reports, those tasked with protecting our waterways have updated management plans and guidelines. Francoeur said additional monitoring will determine if those guidelines have been effective in the long-term.

Dr. Hartig said of all the challenges listed — climate change is the glaring concern, because it impacts everything else.

“This ecosystem is truly amazing," said Dr. Hartig. "But what we have to remember is that we live in the ecosystem too. And what we do to the ecosystem we do to ourselves.”