The Great Lakes New Directions

Citizens from all sectors of society are discovering their own personal connection to the Great Lakes. As a result, they are becoming increasingly involved in actions to protect and preserve this vital ecosystem.


The surge of public involvement in management of the Great Lakes reflects the change in attitudes toward the lakes over the years. The belief in earlier times that the effects of pollution were necessary results of prosperity and progress has given way to the philosophy that the Great Lakes ecosystem must be managed responsibly and treated respectfully.

Cooperation on many fronts highlights the commitment of the people of the United States and Canada to prevent further degradation and to protect the future of the Great Lakes. This commitment has been reflected through the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, national programs for environmental protection and the involvement of governments, non-government agencies and groups, researchers, industries, communities and individuals.

The public's direct actions have influenced both governments and industry. Together, citizens from both sides of the border have provided the impetus for governments to cooperate and adopt more creative and effective management solutions to Great Lakes problems. The concept of an ecosystem approach to management has become reality from the experiences of this broad-based Great Lakes community.


Research conducted in universities and government agencies is contributing a substantial body of theory and information for practical management programs, and a better understanding of the ecosystem and its properties. Research continues to look for solutions to existing and emerging problems.

The refinement of mass balance and biomonitoring techniques is an ongoing task. There is still an urgent need to understand how toxic substances move through the Great Lakes ecosystem on land, in the air, by water and through the food web. More information is needed about less obvious, nonpoint pollution sources to the Great Lakes, such as land runoff, long-range transport of contaminants in the atmosphere into the Great Lakes basin, movement of chemicals in groundwater and secondary pollution that may occur when substances combine chemically in air or water.

Research is required to answer human health questions, to promote improved human health and to prevent disease. Indicators of human and ecosystem health must be developed and supported by ecosystem monitoring. The extent to which the ecosystem is affected by the hormone-like effects of persistent chlorinated substances must be determined.

The Future of the Great Lakes

The story of the Great Lakes does not end here. Although progress has been steady and the ecosystem has shown signs of recovery, pollution will continue to be a major concern in the years to come. A broader scope of regulation of toxic chemicals may be necessary as research and monitoring reveal practices that are harmful. More stringent controls of waste disposal are already being applied in many locations. Agricultural practices are being examined because of the far-reaching effects of pesticides and fertilizers. In addition to pollution problems, better understanding of the living resources and habitats of the Great Lakes basin is needed to support protection and rehabilitation of the biodiversity of the ecosystem and to strengthen management of natural resources. Wetlands, forests, shorelines and other environmentally sensitive areas will have to be more strictly protected and, in some cases, rehabilitated and expanded.

As health protection measures are taken and environmental cleanup continues, rehabilitation of degraded areas and prevention of further damage are being recognized as the best way to promote good health, and protect and preserve the living resources and habitats of the Great Lakes.

People in the Ecosystem

As people living around the lakes make the connection between themselves and the Great Lakes, they will become increasingly involved in positive actions. People are indeed reclaiming, cleaning up and restoring their watersheds, local shorelines, parks and green space. Through careful management of technology and economic development, people can live within the ecosystem without causing injury. In return, the lakes and the lands surrounding them will continue to contribute to the quality of life for the people of the region and all living things in the Great Lakes ecosystem and beyond.

Introduction: The Great Lakes
Natural Processes in the Great Lakes
People & The Great Lakes
The Great Lakes Today - Concerns
Joint Management of the Great Lakes
New Directions for the Great Lakes Community

U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office