Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project

Coastal Development

Stretching over 17,000 km, the Great Lakes shoreline is the longest freshwater coast in the world. Healthy coastal ecosystems, including nearshore waters and their adjacent islands, wetlands, and beaches offer diverse habitats for a variety of plant, fish, and wildlife species. Coastal areas also provide many benefits for human populations, including access to recreational opportunities, filtration of pollutants from stormwater, access to water for consumption, power generation, and manufacturing, and outlets for wastewater discharge.

Human activities in the coastal zone often cause degradation to nearshore waters and disrupt coastal processes.  The State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference defines coastal development as “human use of the land connected with industrial, residential, agricultural, or transportation activities that substantially alters the natural landscape or affects the ecosystem.” Some impacts associated with shoreline development include:

  • Fragmentation and destruction of terrestrial and aquatic habitat
  • Loss of native plant and animal communities
  • Altered flow regimes (caused by water withdrawals, diversions, channelization, and/or redirection of waste and stormwater flows)
  • Increased run-off and reduced groundwater recharge due to increased impervious surface
  • Increased pollutant discharges from many sources
  • Altered thermal regimes


The GLEAM project assesses coastal development using five stressor layers.