Scientists who worked on a new international study singles out Thunder Bay as one of the most environmentally stressed areas on Lake Superior — and they hope the report spurs government action.
The study, put together by a group called the Great Lakes Environmental Mapping Project, created a web-based map of the region, spanning 1,500 kilometres.
A total of 34 environmental stressors were examined, including coastal development, pollution carried by rivers and climate change.
Lake Superior showed up as the healthiest Great Lake, but it's not without its problem areas.
"By Lake Superior standards, Thunder Bay definitely is in the high-stress category," said University of Wisconsin professor Peter McIntrye, one of the study’s authors.
Making information 'publicly available'
The Duluth harbour and the St Louis Estuary, located on the western tip of Lake Superior, also fall in the high-stress category.
McIntyre said the interactive map allows people to see the impact of pollution, climate change and invasive species. He noted shoreline structures — such as docks — impact the lakes, and pointed to Georgian Bay as an example.
"And you'll see an unbelievable number of these structures where people have physically transformed the character of the shoreline by adding all of these little protusions out into the water," he said.
"And that really changes the way the water's flowing, the way organisms can move, fish can swim, and so on — up and down the shoreline."
Tapping into 'a wealth of information'
McIntyre said the project was done to consolidate all available information about the Great Lakes into one place so it's accessible to policy makers and the general public.
"Our strategy from the outset was not to reinvent the wheel," he said.
"We are well aware we have hundreds of colleagues around the Great Lakes that have been doing work on multiple stressors in multiple places. Most of that information is completely inaccessible, even to the research community. Our strategy was to tap into the wealth of information that exists already and making it publicly available."
McIntyre said they also wanted to move beyond "the generalizations that Lake Superior is in good shape [and that] Lake Ontario and Lake Erie are in bad shape."
The mapping tool allows for "something of a higher resolution," he said, when it comes to restoring the lakes "to a healthy eco-system."