Habitats and Ecosystems
Coastal areas provide essential habitat for numerous species of fish, waterfowl, migratory birds and mammals. But the continuing development of our coastlines has destroyed much of our wetlands, degraded water quality and severely stressed ecosystems. Understanding the complex dynamics between terrestrial and aquatic environments is critical to resource quality, sustainability and management in the Great Lakes region.

State of the Bay 2013 Report

The State of the Bay 2013 Report
“State of the Bay: The Condition of the Bay of Green Bay/Lake Michigan 2013” is the first comprehensive look at the ecological health of the region in 20 years. It offers details on the bay’s “dead zone,” the effect of aquatic invasive species, the good news about walleye and more. Read more...

Cat Island Chain Restoration

Cat Island Chain Information
A plan is underway to restore a chain of islands in southern Green Bay that were washed away in the 1970s. Read more...

The beginning
On June 1, 2012, crews began work to restore the Cat Island chain. Read more...

Potential Climate Change Impacts on the Bay of Green Bay - An Assessment Report

Climate change poses new threats to Green Bay and its resources because it may alter the impacts of already existing stresses on the ecosystem. As part of the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, a Green Bay Ecosystem Working Group was formed and held several workshops during 2008-10. The Working Group assessment report identifies existing stresses and vulnerabilities of the Green Bay ecosystem, suggests how climate change may affect key ecosystem components, and proposes adaptation strategies for mitigating impacts. Read more...

Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve (LSNERR)

The River Talks

A free, informal speaker series about the St. Louis River Estuary in Duluth-Superior and a cooperative project between the Wisconsin and Minnesota Sea Grant programs and the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Come learn about the St. Louis River! Scientists, businesses, and agency staff who work and depend on the St. Louis River Estuary will share their thoughts and information about river projects each month during the academic year. But the evening presentations won’t be a one-way street. You’ll get to ask questions and share your thoughts, too.


Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve (LSNERR)
A 16,697-acre area of freshwater marshes, uplands and river on the shores of Lake Superior in Wisconsin has become the 28th member of the NOAA's National Estuarine Research Reserve System in a designation ceremony at Superior in October, 2010.  The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve is located in Douglas County, in the northwestern corner of Wisconsin where the St. Louis River flows into Lake Superior. Read more...

South Bay Marina Habitat Enhancement

Completed in 2003, South Bay marina in Green Bay is not just a marina, but features a variety of habitat enhancements. Read more...


Julia Noordyk: Helping Coastal Communities
Julia Noordyk, Wisconsin Sea Grant's Green Bay-based coastal storms outreach specialist, has been with the organizaiton two years. But she's just begun to get her feet wet. Read more...

Revitalizing Local Waterfront Economies
This video outlines the Great Lakes Legacy Act and highlights benefits it brings to communities. Read more...

Sheboygan River: A Little Patience, A Big Payback
In the summer of 2012, the cleanup of the Sheboygan River got underway. The benefits to the community will be enormous--but through 2012, some patience will be required. Crews will be working around the clock to dredge the river, clean up contaminated sediment and restore wildlife habitat. Read more...

What Will Round Gobies Do to Great Lakes Streams?
Researchers investigated just what kind of impact the round gobies might be having in streams flowing into the Great Lakes. Using nets and a portable electro-fishing system, they sampled and analyzed goby populations at 150 different stream locations along Wiscosins' Lake Michigan coast. Read more...

Are Flame Retardants Harming Frogs?
In Dr. William Karasov's lab, the frog is front and center in a series of research experiments, funded in part by the UW Sea Grant Institute, designed to explore how environmental toxins may be affecting the frog's immune system, growth and development. Read more...

How Many Sport Fish Can Lake Michigan Support?
A research project is finding out how invasive species may be changing the food web in Lake Michigan. Read more...

Beyond the Usual Suspects
E. coli bacteria sometimes contaminates the waters of Bradford Beach in Milwaukee. Where does it come from? How can it be reduced? Dr. Sandra MacLellan cracks the case. Read more...

Part 1: All Washed Up, Lake Michigan's Algae Challenge
See what effect excessive algae is having on beaches, homeowners, and industry. Read more...

See More Videos on Habitats and Ecosystems


The Hydrologic and Ecologic Effects of Green Infrastructure Within Urban Coastal Catchments

Steve Loheide, UW-Madison, (608) 265-5277

There is increasing interest in green infrastructure strategies such as rain barrels, porous pavement, native landscaping, rain gardens and green roofs. Yet widespread adoption of these practices has been slow, in part due to lingering uncertainty in site-specific and lack of engagement by private homeowners. Realistic expectations of performance for sites with different fine-scaled characteristics under a range of weather scenarios is key to executing successful projects that encourage engagement by homeowners. By performing factorial modeling using ParFlow with Common Land Model, we will be able to explore these details at a larger scale than has been done before. By synthesizing our results into a visualization tool and set of guidelines, we will make these results easily accessible to planners, professionals, private residents and students and help to develop an informed citizenry that understands the impact of individual, distributed stormwater management decisions on broader hydrological and ecological outcomes. R/RCE-05

Spatial and Temporal Distribution of Benthic Macro-Invertebrate Community of Lower Green Bay, 1938-Present

Christopher Houghton, UW-Green Bay, (920) 465-2922, houghtoc@uwgb.edu
Patrick Forsythe, UW-Green Bay, (920) 465-2524, forsythp@uwgb.edu
Christopher Patrick, Texas A&M University
J. Val Klump, UW-Milwaukee

Benthic macro-invertebrate communities often have a disproportionate effect on Great Lakes aquatic communities. The benthic community of Green Bay has been surveyed periodically from the late 1930s through the 1990s. However, many sources of uncertainty regarding the benthic invertebrate community remain, and that limits our ability to understand the ecology of the system as a whole. The main objective of this project is to evaluate the current density and distribution of the entire benthic macro-invertebrate community in Lower Green Bay and place this distribution in the context of historic records. Researchers will also attempt to develop spatially explicit predictive models that can determine associations with surrounding abiotic and biotic features of the overlying waters that may influence observed macro-invertebrate distribution. The proposed research will have application to broader management objectives (e.g., AOC delisting), ongoing hydrodynamic and phosphorous modeling, and research seeking to better understand fish foraging ecology and population dynamics. R/HCE-37

A New Phosphorous Model for Lake Michigan

Harvey Bootsma, UW-Milwaukee, (414) 382-1717, hbootsma@uwm.edu
Qian Liao, UW-Milwaukee, (414) 229-4228, liao@uwm.edu

Previous research has shown that the relationship between external phosphorus loading and algal production in Lake Michigan has changed – phytoplankton production in offshore waters has decreased while the production of nuisance benthic algae in the nearshore zone has increased. As a result, previous phosphorus loading targets may no longer be valid, and managers are uncertain as to whether there is an ideal loading rate that will result in minimal growth of nuisance algae in the nearshore while sustaining the pelagic plankton and fish community. Researchers will develop a whole-lake phosphorus model that couples nearshore and pelagic models they have recently constructed. The project goal is to produce a model that can be used to determine how both the pelagic and nearshore communities will respond to external phosphorus loads. The researchers will work closely with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to ensure that products specifically address this agency’s management needs. R/HCE-36

Transitioning Science to Management: Developing Models and Tools to Restore the Health of the Green Bay Ecosystem

Kevin Fermanich, UW-Green Bay, (920) 465-2240, fermanik@uwgb.edu
J. Val Klump, UW-Milwaukee, (414) 382-1700, vklump@uwm.edu
Hector Bravo, UW-Milwaukee
Chad Cook, UW-Extension
Paul Baumgart, UW-Green Bay
Michael Zorn, UW-Green Bay
Jerry Kaster, UW-Milwaukee

Hypereutrophic conditions are a persistent problem in Green Bay and a principal criteria for the southern bay’s designation as an Area of Concern. Ecosystem restoration requires a significant and sustained effort to reduce nutrient inputs. Many new efforts are taking place in the region, but success requires the cooperation of the whole watershed and resource agencies armed with science-based predictive tools. Such tools are essential in an ecosystem that is witnessing massive alterations in agriculture and development and a changing climate. Researchers have assembled a comprehensive set of linked models of watershed loading, biogeochemical cycling and hydrodynamics that are informed by downscaled climate scenarios. Effective implementation requires translating that information into a form that is useable by stakeholders. Key outcomes are the refinement of a set of management analysis tools to help guide resource management and the engagement of those involved in land and water use across all sectors. R/HCE-35

Naturalized E. coli in the Beach Environment and Implications for Beach Monitoring

Sandra McLellan, UW-Milwaukee, (414) 382-1710, mclellan@uwm.edu

Beach closings due to contamination by untreated sewage or animal waste are a serious public health threat that has economic consequences. Fecal indicators such as E. coli are harmless organisms meant to demonstrate that pathogens may be present. However, E. coli persists in sand in the absence of any evidence of fecal pollution, suggesting that certain strains are adapted to the sand environment. Researchers have isolated >2500 E. coli from host sources and from sand and are examining genetic differences that could explain their persistence in beach sand. Laboratory experiments, genome sequencing and comparative genomics will identity potential mechanisms of E. coli survival. QPCR assays for strains that are specifically adapted to beach sand are being developed. These assays, combined with other assessment tools, including source tracking approaches, will shed light on the extent to which Wisconsin’s beaches are colonized with reservoirs of persistent E. coli strains. R/HCE-34

Changing Silica Dynamics in Lake Michigan: A Symptom of Altered Food Webs

John Berges, UW-Milwaukee, (414) 229-3258, berges@uwm.edu
Erica Young, UW-Milwaukee
Hunter Carrick, Central Michigan University

Silica (Si) plays critical roles in carbon cycling, wetlands functioning and ecosystem structure, and it can limit the phytoplankton productivity on which fisheries depend. However, we understand the Great Lakes Si cycle very poorly. For example, dissolved Si in Lake Michigan has been increasing dramatically for years for reasons we don’t understand, while recent work shows substantial uptake of Si in nearshore waters by blooms of green macroalgae and their epiphytic diatoms, organisms never considered important in the Si cycle. In this project, researchers will estimate dissolved and biogenic Si in different regions of Lake Michigan, characterize variations in nearshore dissolved Si in response to rainfall and upwellings, assess uptake and remineralization of Si from green macroalgal-epiphyte assemblages, and develop a model/budget for silica for a nearshore region of Lake Michigan. A citizen science component involving monitoring blooms and identifying organisms using cell-phone camera microscopes will be included. R/HCE-33

The Role of Indirect Photolysis in the Environmental Fate of Pesticides and Pharmaceuticals
Christina Remucal, UW-Madison, (608) 262-1820, remucal@wisc.edu
Kristine Wammer, University of St. Thomas

The presence of biologically active anthropogenic compounds (e.g., pesticides and pharmaceuticals) in the watersheds of Great Lakes is of emerging concern to stakeholders and water quality managers. Natural processes, such as dissolved organic matter (DOM)-mediated indirect photodegradation, can transform many of these compounds. However, predicting the photodegradation rates of target compounds is difficult because DOM varies temporally and spatially, and current approaches rely on time- and labor-intensive analyses. The overall goal of our project is to assess how the molecular composition and photochemical reactivity of DOM with anthropogenic compounds changes as it moves from the St. Louis River into the St. Louis Estuary and then into Lake Superior.  We plan to develop a transferable tool that will relate the photoreactivity of DOM with simple water quality measurements and predict the photodegration rates of target compounds in this sensitive ecosystem and other natural waters.  R/HCE-31


Great Lakes Nature-Based (Green) Coastal Shoreline Protection Coastal Engineering Outreach and Promotion of Appropriate Use in Great Lakes Applications
Nature-based coastal shoreline protection uses a range of nature-based stabilization techniques combined with traditional “grey” methods to provide a proven and cost-effective alternative. Grey solutions involve concrete, steel and stone shoreline protection. The keys to successful green installations have been a wise choice of location and material/design selections. This effort will continue efforts to partner with stakeholders, learning from successful nature-based demonstration projects, identifying locations and providing outreach.

Coastal Engineering Outreach, Project Assistance and Promotion of Using Non-Biased Science-Based Information in Determining Environmental Dredging Windows
Great Lakes harbor and port navigation channel dredging serves the commercial shipping industry. These channels are also areas used by native fish and other aquatic species for spawning, migrating and/or living. In an attempt to minimize disruption of the natural use of the region by aquatic life during the dredging of the navigation channel, permitting agencies establish protective “environmental dredging windows.”  Setting accurate windows is a difficult task. This effort will use science-based data to better justify proper environmental dredging windows in a coordinated and collaborative approach.

Tackling Barriers to Green Infrastructure
Extreme rainfall events are expected to continue to increase in the Great Lakes region causing more frequent and intense flooding and water quality problems. Green infrastructure is a proven and effective means to improve water quality and habitat. It can reduce flooding damage and stormwater pollution and volume, but there remain critical barriers to its implementation. Based on the work of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, Sea Grant developed “Tackling Barriers to Green Infrastructure: An Audit of Local Codes and Ordinances,” a workbook to help communities audit, revise and prioritize codes to smooth green infrastructure implementation.

Great Lakes and Food Web Ecosystem Ecology
The Great Lakes waters of Wisconsin support jobs and economic impacts through the harvest of fish by commercial, charter and recreational fishers. The food webs supporting these fisheries are dynamic systems and are influenced by factors such as invasive species, nutrient loading and resource management. This effort will support outreach, education and research in Wisconsin’s Great Lakes ecosystems.

Restoring the Health of the Lower Fox River and Green Bay
Lower Green Bay and 14 tributaries in the Lower Fox River Basin do not meet Wisconsin water-quality standards due to low dissolved oxygen. Excessive suspended solids and phosphorous cause nuisance and harmful algal blooms that have led to a dead zone in lower Green Bay. With partners, Sea Grant is working to address the challenges and improve water quality.

Related Publications

State of the Bay 2013
For the most recent information about water quality, fish and wildlife populations, aquatic invasive species, beach conditions and the status of contaminants in Green Bay, Wisconsin, see this free downloadable publication. Read more...

Related Websites

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)

Wisconsin is the beneficiary of funding made available under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a $475 million program to restore fish and wildlife habitat, clean up toxic pollution, reduce nonpoint source pollution, and control and prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes.  Wisconsin Sea Grant will be involved in several projects that are regional in nature and will be implemented with multiple partners.  They are: 

  • developing a beach information communication system
  • developing a regional public outreach campaign on aquatic invasive species
  • developing a regional green marina education and outreach project
  • expanding our understanding of the Lake Michigan food web
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    Migratory Birds of the Great Lakes
    Learn about field identification, habitats, migration, conservation status, nests and eggs, songs, and issues challenging 20 species of Great Lakes migratory birds. Read more...

    Visit this website to learn facts about frogs, field identification, and take quizzes about frogs, plus this website includes various activities for kids and teachers. Read more...

    Coastal Wetlands of Wisconsin's Great Lakes: A Data Compilation and Assessment
    This Wisconsin DNR website provides information on wetland sites throughout the coastal regions of Wisconsin. Read more...

    Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas
    Visit the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology's website to access information (maps, data, images) about bird species breeding in the state. Read more...

    Great Lakes Birding and Nature Trails
    Wisconsin DNR's website allows you to download birding trail guides for different regions in the state including Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Read more...

    State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC)
    The State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conferences (SOLEC) and State of the Great Lakes reports are produced jointly by the U. S. EPA and Environment Canada. They provide independent, science-based reporting on the state of the health of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem.  For information on the conference and to access the reports, Read more...

    Wisconsin's Water Library
    Established in 1964 by the UW Water Resources Institute, Wisconsin's Water Library (formerly known as the Water Resources Library) is unique among UW-Madison's many libraries for its collection of almost 30,000 volumes of water-related information about the Great Lakes and the waters of Wisconsin. The library includes a curriculum collection, dozens of educational videos, a children's collection, and more than 20 journals and 100 newsletters. Read more...