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satellite image of Windsor-Essex and greater DetroitThis image from NASA shows the Detroit River and its surroundings. According to the State of the Strait, the ecosystem needs more clean-up despite decades of restoration efforts.

Report identifies Detroit River ecosystem’s most pressing environmental issues

Algal blooms, toxic substances, invasive species, habitat loss, and land use changes are among the eight most pressing environmental problems that continue to plague the Detroit River and western Lake Erie, according to a binational report released Tuesday.

The State of the Strait Report, based on information collected by more than 40 organizations in Canada and the United States, said the Detroit River ecosystem needs additional clean-up and restoration despite gains in the recovery of plant and animal life since the 1960s.

“Western Lake Erie is now at risk of crossing several potential tipping points caused by the interactions of a variety of drivers and stresses,” said conservation scientist John Hartig, visiting scholar at UWindsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research and one of the experts who helped prepare the report.

“Addressing any of the eight environmental and natural resource challenges identified in the report is demanding, but mitigating them all at once and in the face of the climate change crisis is daunting,” Dr. Hartig said.

The State of the Strait is a collaboration of government managers, researchers, students, environmental and conservation organizations, and concerned citizens. They meet once every two years, producing a report on the status of the Detroit River and western Lake Erie ecosystem. This report is the product of the last conference, held at the University of Windsor in November 2019.

It identifies eight key environmental and natural resource challenges threating the health of the ecosystem:

  • climate change;
  • excessive nutrients from runoff causing algal blooms and death of animal life;
  • toxic substance contamination;
  • invasive species;
  • habitat loss and degradation;
  • nonpoint source pollution;
  • human health and environmental justice; and
  • population growth, transportation expansion, and land use changes.

The report calls climate change a “threat multiplier,” in which warmer, wetter, and wilder climatic conditions amplify the other threats.

“This report is an excellent example of synthesis of science to comprehensively assess ecosystem health and of strengthening science-policy linkages in support of ecosystem-based management,” said Mike McKay, GLIER’s executive director.

“This report showcases how the intellectual capital of this binational region can be leveraged to help understand and address the region’s most pressing environmental and natural resource challenges.”

The State of the Strait is sponsored by the University of Windsor, Eastern Michigan University, Wayne State University, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the University of Michigan’s Environmental Interpretive Centre in Dearborn, the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup, the International Joint Commission, Friends of the Detroit River, the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, DTE Energy, and the government of Canada.

—Sarah Sacheli

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