Great Lakes Sand Dunes and Wetlands
About Great Lakes Sand Dunes

What are Sand Dunes?

Sand dunes are hills, mounds or ridges of wind deposited sand with a variety of plant communities. Great Lakes sand dunes can be divided into 4 distinct and general zones, which are based upon these plant communities: beach, foredune, trough/swale or interdunal pond, and backdune forest.

State of Great Lakes Dunes

The Great Lakes sand dunes are the world's largest collection of freshwater dunes, are home to endemic, rare, endangered, and threatened species, and house globally significant shorebird habitats. Great Lakes dunes are currently found along all the Great Lakes in both the United States and Canada.

Pressures of Great Lakes Dunes

There are numerous pressures to the Great Lakes sand dunes. Invasive species can rapidly spread if not controlled in dune areas. Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is one of the most prevalent invasive species found along the Eastern Lake Ontario Dunes. While non-indigenous baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata) threatens dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan. In addition to invasive species, land use change, habitat destruction, recreational use by pedestrians and off road vehicle use destroys vegetation, which causes erosion. In areas where sand is less abundant like the Eastern Lake Ontario, dunes are threatened by sand starvation.

Management Implications

In many areas along Great Lakes dunes many management efforts are now focusing on dune preservation. In Michigan legislation is currently in place to control or reduce sand mining impacts. Raised boardwalks and dune walkovers have been constructed along the Eastern Lake Ontario dunes to provide recreational users designated walkways, and to minimize erosion. Native beachgrass plantings retard erosion. The U.S. side of Eastern Lake Ontario has developed an educational based stewardship program (20+ years) as a result of the [Lake] Ontario Dune Coalition. The Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Stewards patrol the public dune areas promoting environmentally sound use of the resource areas while collecting visitor usage data.

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