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The Great Lakes: a National Treasure

November 02, 2017

A new story map shows the benefits of habitat restoration in the Great Lakes, which benefits people and fish.


Chicago skyline at dawn from Lake Michigan

What's the Largest Freshwater System on Earth?

Our amazing Great Lakes! Eight states share more than 10,000 miles of shoreline along 95,000 square miles of fresh water. The Lakes provide drinking water to 40 million people, generate clean hydropower, and provide a home for 170 species of fish.

An Economic Powerhouse

The Lakes draw $4 billion in recreation and tourism activity and provide 1.5 million water-related jobs. If the Great Lakes were a country, the region's economy would rival Japan's, with a $4.5 trillion gross regional product.  Ninety percent of U.S. iron ore, 200 million tons of coal, grain and other commodities are shipped over this 1,700-mile international trade route. Despite new factories in other regions, 58 percent of automobiles are still manufactured in the Great Lakes.  

To Protect and Restore

More than a century of active industry has left an unfortunate legacy of damaged or destroyed wetlands and degraded habitat. Hazardous waste, invasive species, and filling or straightening waterways have accelerated declines in fish and wildlife populations. That's why in 2010, 16 federal agencies came together and created the the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to protect these precious resources.

Get the Whole Story

Explore NOAA's work around our splendid Great Lakes, including two case studies of projects that restored habitat, improved water quality, and provided employment.