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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Lake Erie

The Water

Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, has a maximum depth of 64 m and an average depth of only 19 m. The lake has a surface area of 25,700 km² and is divided into three basins, with the west and central basins being very shallow (less than 20 m) and the eastern basin being the deepest (64 m). The lake bottom is relatively smooth. Productivity is the highest in the Great Lakes, about 4-7 times more productive than Lake Superior. Coastal upwelling occurs along the western shore and keeps the western basin well mixed. The shallow, central basin, largest of the three basins, tends to be eutrophic in summer, with very little oxygen. The Waters are generally turbid and visibility is limited, though water clarity has drastically improved over the past decade as a result of the accidental introduction of the zebra mussel. Surface water temperatures range from 0°C in January to 20-22°C in July. Ice is present for three to four months and as a result of the shallow depths, the region is completely covered for part of the winter. Because of its small volume, the retention time in Lake Erie is only 2.6 years.

The Coast

The shoreline is generally quite regular and low-lying, dominated by low eroding bluffs. An outcrop of bedrock in the extreme northeast has given rise to a series of headlands separated by sandy beaches that interrupt the straight trend of the coast. Material eroded from the unresistant bluffs has been moved by wind, waves and currents to form a few long sand spits, complete with sand dunes and marshes: Long Point, Rondeau Point and Point Pelee. Beaches are rare elsewhere.

The Wildlife

Lake Erie had one of the most diverse fish faunas in the Great Lakes, essentially a warm-water one with over 110 native species, including bowfin, northern pike, yellow bullhead, freshwater drum, rainbow smelt, white bass, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, walleye and muskellunge. The lake chubsucker, restricted in Canada to Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, occurs locally. Pollution and encroachment by introduced species, particularly carp, have resulted in an appreciable reduction in the number of native species. Important populations of amphibian and reptile species inhabit The Coastal marshes and waters. Lake Erie sees the greatest diversity of bird species in the Great Lakes, mostly migrants. Some 50,000 pairs breed in the region, dominated overwhelmingly by ring-billed gulls, followed by herring gulls, double-crested cormorants, common terns, and great blue herons. Common loons and several dabbling duck species also nest in the region. Moderate numbers of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds frequent the marshes. Important concentrations of canvasbacks, redheads, common and red-breasted mergansers and Bonaparte's gulls often congregate along the shore during the autumn migration.


This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. Three preliminary representative marine areas have been identified: Point Pelee/Pelee Island, Long Point and Rondeau Point. Studies to confirm the representative marine areas, followed by selection of the preferred area for consideration as a possible national marine conservation area are the next steps. (For details on the establishment process, see The NMCA Program.)

Last Updated: 2013-05-10 To the top
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