Restoring Lake Erie’s Largest Wetland

A four-phase, five-year process is underway to restore one of the largest coastal wetlands in Lake Erie.

Erie Marsh contains 2,217 acres of wetlands that are home to 65 species of fish and 300 species of migratory birds. That’s according to The Nature Conservancy, the organization tasked with cleaning up the marsh.

Only around 5 percent of the wetlands in western Lake Erie remain from the mid-1900s, when pollution and dike construction harmed the quality and flow of the water, according to the director of the operation to restore the marsh in southeast Michigan near the Ohio border.

Dikes built more than a half-century ago to control water flowing into the wetlands cut the marsh off from the lake, said Chris May, the conservancy’s program director in Michigan. These dikes are large, long embankments of earth built to block water flow to certain areas, which is what caused the marsh to be separated from Lake Erie.

Last June the conservancy began building underwater passageways to reconnect Erie Marsh back to the lake and return fish to the wetlands. They’ll finish that next summer, May said.

“There’s about 250 acres of potential fish habitat inside the dike, but it’s been segregated from the lakes for about sixty years,” he said. “So we’re going to re-establish the water connection to the lake and allow fish to come into the site for spawning and foraging.”

The project includes digging canals and installing a two-way pump capable of moving 12,000 gallons of water per minute to and from the marsh. That will help workers manage specific areas within Erie Marsh, according to the conservancy’s website.

When the conservancy opened its first passageway, fish started using it on day one, said May.

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