Only about half of Great Lakes coastal wetlands are left, and we are working to protect and restore them for future generations.

Our Goal

The Great Lakes Coastal Assembly has collaboratively developed goals that call for a resilient system of Great Lakes coastal wetlands that will: 

  • Goal 1: Support a sustainable assemblage of native species, including priority species; 
  • Goal 2: Support diverse wetland types that are resilient and adaptable to changing conditions.; and
  • Goal 3: Support sustainable economic and social benefits complementary to ecological benefits;

         and that:

  • Goal 4: People in the great lakes recognize benefits of, and engage in the protection, restoration and conservation of coastal wetlands

Our Solution

The Great Lakes Coastal Assembly, in partnership with Blue Accounting, is working to address the problem of lost and degraded wetlands. We support coastal wetland restoration, enhancement, and protection efforts in the Great Lakes basin by providing decision-makers with a clear picture of the work, and resulting impacts, occurring throughout the region.

By collaboratively setting shared basin-wide goals, identifying strategies to achieve those goals, cataloging investments in coastal wetlands, and reporting on relevant metrics to show progress, the Assembly is working with Blue Accounting to deliver the data and the context needed to make informed decisions around coastal wetland management. For these purposes, coastal wetlands are defined as an area consisting of hydric soils that have the capacity to support hydrophytes "water-loving plants", and include a current or historic hydrological connection to the Great Lakes.

Coastal wetlands are lost to development, pollution, and invasive species – threats that continue to grow in the Great Lakes. As these culturally important and environmentally vital areas are removed, the remaining wetlands become fragmented from each other, weakening the overall system. Without a strong network of coastal wetlands, Great Lakes food webs suffer, shorelines are left unprotected, and the risk of poor water quality increases. Our solution moves us in the opposite direction, toward healthy coastal wetland systems.

Why Coastal Wetlands Matter

Why it Matters Slide Show -Coastal



Wetlands provide recreational and tourism opportunities for communities, including birding, sport fishing, duck hunting, and boating.

Source: Erie Marsh Preserve, Spring Treasure Hunt 2017. Photo Credit: © Deb Allen 



Wetlands provide habitat for a diverse array of rare, threatened and endangered plants and animals, spawning and nursery habitat for fish, nesting and feeding areas for waterfowl, and migratory bird stopover sites.

Source: Great Blue Heron, Detroit River, Michigan © Michael David-Lorne Jordan/David-Lorne Photographic

Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem Services

Wetlands provide a host of ecosystem services, improving water quality, capturing pollutants, reducing erosion and beautifying communities.

Source: Detroit, Michigan © Michael David-Lorne Jordan/David-Lorne Photographic

Lotus flowers at Erie Marsh


Wetlands support the world-class Great Lakes fishery by providing critical habitat for fish to spawn and grow.

Source: Northern Pike. Photo Credit: © Kletr/Shutterstock

Who’s Involved

The Great Lakes Coastal Assembly is a cross-agency team working together to conserve and restore lands and waters in the critically important coastal zones of the Great Lakes. Assembly members include:

  • Bay Mills Indian Community
  • Ducks Unlimited
  • Environment & Climate Change Canada
  • Great Lakes Commission
  • Illinois Natural History Survey
  • Illinois State Geological Survey
  • Indiana Department of Natural Resources
  • Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE)
  • Michigan Department of Natural Resources
  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
  • National Audubon
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • New York Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education
  • Ohio Department of Natural Resources
  • Ohio Lake Erie Commission
  • Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • United States Geological Survey
  • University of Michigan
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Measuring Progress

The Assembly envisions a diverse system of Great Lakes coastal wetlands that meets the needs of native fish, wildlife and plant species while supporting our Great Lakes coastal communities and people who visit them.

To track the development of that vision, Blue Accounting measures progress using specific metrics. Currently, the Assembly is tracking one metric each against Goal 1 and Goal 2. These initial metrics were selected by the Assembly through a collaborative process with federal, state, tribal and non-governmental representatives. They leverage the best available data and present an informative measurement of progress toward each goal. Metrics are not intended to convey every facet of wetland health, but rather to provide critical context to inform decision-making. Blue Accounting will evolve to include tracking progress using additional ecological and socioeconomic metrics.

Objectives and Metrics

A resilient system of Great Lakes coastal wetlands supporting a sustainable assemblage of native fish, wildlife and plant species, including priority species at desired population levels.

Objective 1: Maintain or restore Great Lakes coastal wetlands to achieve a 'Fair to Good' status and 'Unchanging or Improving' trend for the mean wetland breeding bird IEC (index of ecological condition) in each Great Lake by 2025, as calculated and reported in the State of the Great Lakes (SOGL) reports.

  • Metric 1: Mean wetland breeding bird IEC (index of ecological condition) as reported in SOGL 2017.  

A resilient system of Great Lakes coastal wetlands that is able to function within an extended range of variability, supports diversity of wetland types throughout the region, and adapts to changing climatic and hydrologic conditions.

Objective 1: reach Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) action plan II and III annual coastal wetland acreage target values

  • Metric 1: total coastal wetland acreage protected, enhanced, or restored by GLRI projects

A resilient system of Great Lakes coastal wetlands with characteristics supporting positive and sustainable economic and social benefits complementary to ecological benefits.

Objectives and metrics for this goal are under development

Great Lakes communities recognize the many benefits of, and engage in the protection, restoration and conservation of coastal wetlands.

Objectives and metrics for this goal are under development

How We Work

The Great Lakes Coastal Assembly, formerly the Coastal Conservation Working Group under the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Landscape Conservation Cooperative, is the collaborative group behind Blue Accounting’s Coastal Wetlands issue. The Assembly provides a coordinated effort to:

  • Identify shared conservation goals and objectives for restoring and protecting coastal wetlands
  • Invest in data and knowledge to fill gaps, and tools to better inform decisions
  • Support and develop strategies that incentivize action and provide leadership towards attaining objectives

The Assembly provides their collective expertise to set goals, select metrics, identify strategies and work with key data providers to put together the information that is published by Blue Accounting. This coordination and collaboration allows us to present the best possible picture of this issue across the Great Lakes basin, as told by the people who are most involved.

Great Lakes Coastal Assembly ("The Assembly") group photo

Assembly members at the 2019 spring meeting in Marquette, MI. ©Shawn Nowicki/USFW. Click hear to learn more about the history of the Coastal Wetlands Blue Accounting issue.

From Saginaw Bay to Sandusky Bay in Western Lake Erie

The Assembly is currently piloting collaborative landscape conservation design and producing on-the-ground results for coastal wetlands from Saginaw Bay to Sandusky Bay in western Lake Erie. This area was selected as an initial focal area because the lake plains adjacent to the bays have low elevation and high coastal wetland restoration potential. They once supported expansive coastal wetlands but have been modified over time for agriculture and expanding urban areas.

Extensive data has been gathered in this pilot area, and new decision support tools have been developed. Guided by these tools, and with support from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Assembly can focus on-the-ground efforts to selected projects that lead to maximum, cost-effective impact. The Assembly is working to expand its efforts to the entire Great Lakes Basin and has recently added Canadian members. As the Assembly grows, the coastal wetlands information on Blue Accounting will grow with it.



map of western lake erie to sandusky bay

Saginaw Bay to Western Lake Erie is the pilot area for coastal wetlands landscape conservation design and lies in the heart of the GLCA region.