Sandusky Bay Initiative a Plus for Lake Erie Ecology and Economy

The plan—to combine wetlands restoration and research with landscape conservation strategies—gets a big assist from NOAA Office for Coastal Management grants and programs.

Urban and agricultural runoff drains into Ohio’s Sandusky Bay, degrading water quality and feeding harmful algal blooms. Over the next decade, the Sandusky Bay Initiative will transform 64 square miles of open water into a cleaner, clearer resource benefiting wetlands, habitats, fisheries, and the outdoor recreation economy in the Lake Erie region. The Ohio Coastal Management Program is coordinating the multi-partner initiative with the aid of $647,811 in NOAA funding, which includes Science Collaborative funding through the National Estuarine Research Reserve System.

First up is a project that will help Ohio meet a state legislative mandate—eliminating dredge-material dumping into Lake Erie by July 1, 2020. The project partners will repurpose thousands of tons of dredge material the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers harvests annually from the shipping channel that links the bay and Lake Erie. This material will be redesigned into “in-water wetlands” that expand fish and waterfowl habitat while absorbing and filtering much nutrient runoff.

With $156,215 in Science Collaborative funding, a project team at Old Woman Creek Research Reserve is tackling one of the area’s biggest runoff problems—phosphorus pollution—by researching how much phosphorus different wetland configurations can capture. Their project, which extends beyond the Sandusky Bay Initiative, will help build momentum among local communities and managers for improving water quality through targeted wetland restoration.

“I believe [the initiative] will have a huge impact on tourism, not just here in Sandusky but in the entire region,” says Bryan Edwards, director of marketing for Lake Erie Shores and Islands.

Over the three counties fronting Sandusky Bay—Erie, Sandusky, and Ottawa—Great Lakes tourism and recreation brought in a combined $388 million in gross domestic product, according to a 2016 NOAA report. Even better times await, as project partners install appealing urban waterfronts, new fish-spawning areas, extra access points for fishing and paddle sports, and plantings of native species that will expand wildlife habitat.

Additional Sandusky Bay Initiative partners include the City of Sandusky, other state and federal agencies, academia, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector. (2019)

More Information: Sandusky Bay Initiative

Partners: Biohabitats, City of Sandusky, Erie Soil and Water Conservation District, Lake Erie Commission, NOAA Science Collaborative, Ohio Coastal Management Program, Ohio State University, Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve, Tetra Tech, Inc., The Nature Conservancy, University of Michigan Water Center, and U.S. Geological Survey