GLANSIS: A One-Stop Shop for Great Lakes Aquatic Invaders

By Katherine Glassner-Shwayder, NOAA Affiliate
Rochelle Sturtevant, NOAA Regional Sea Grant Specialist
NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
Ann Arbor, Michigan

glansis poster great lakes connection
A poster showing images of aquatic nonindigenous species established in the Great Lakes; information on these species is housed in the Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System (GLANSIS). Credit: NOAA

The health of the Great Lakes ecosystem has been jeopardized for decades by invasions of more than 180 aquatic nonindigenous species. These non-native species include fish, plants and pathogens that arrived here in many ways, from seeds carried by early European settlers to ballast water from ocean-going vessels.

Major challenges in managing the Great Lakes ecosystem include understanding how aquatic nonindigenous species are introduced and spread, how they can change native ecosystems and impact the regional economy, and methods for prevention and control.

To establish a united front in the battle against Great Lakes aquatic invasions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory has helped to create the Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System (GLANSIS).

GLANSIS is a node of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database. It’s a “one-stop shop” that presents information on aquatic invaders in US and Canadian waters which are causing ecological and economic impacts, and supports research and management in the Great Lakes region by providing a foundation of peer-reviewed information on which to base management strategies.

GLANSIS houses information on the identification, distribution, ecology, impact, and management of all established aquatic nonindigenous species in the Great Lakes — as well as several species that have been identified as high risk for future invasions.

A recent product based on GLANSIS is the technical report, “An overview of the management of established nonindigenous species in the Great Lakes,” which provides a snapshot of management practices targeting established nonindigenous species in the Great Lakes region. The toolbox of practices ranges from chemical to physical to biocontrol.

To use the database, start at the GLANSIS home page, which provides definitions and instructions, and then click on the “Search” tab at the top. You can search for information on species (such as factsheets and collection records) either by its scientific or common name. There is a red “Search Help” link for tips on how to best find the information you’re seeking.


The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory has invested in GLANSIS to ensure that a comprehensive framework is created that compiles information on aquatic nonindigenous species from different sources. This allows comparisons across taxonomic groups on a region-wide perspective. In other words, you can make comparisons and set priorities across species ranging from zebra mussels to yellow flag iris, or from a sensitive wetland in northern Minnesota to the open water of Lake Ontario.

The components developed as part of GLANSIS include:

  • Comprehensive technical fact sheets on each of the 186 non-native species established in the Great Lakes, 12 species identified as expanding ranges within the Great Lakes, and 67 species identified as at risk of invading the Great Lakes
  • Species-specific information supporting early detection, rapid response, risk assessment and control efforts
  • Detailed maps and associated collection records for thousands of individual reports of non-native species in the Great Lakes basin.

Recognizing the severity of this ongoing environmental problem, the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory has maintained a lead role in tracking aquatic nonindigenous species from waters around the world and the spread of these species throughout the Great Lakes. The data and information made accessible by GLANSIS is critical to building our capacity to protect and restore the Great Lakes aquatic ecosystem.

quagga mussel great lakes connection glansis
Top Four: In a 2014 impact assessment, the sea lamprey, zebra mussel, quagga mussel (above), and round goby topped the list with high environmental and socioeconomic impacts. More than 30 percent of established invaders were found to have significant negative impacts. Credit: NOAA

Learning from Local Government Leaders in Great Lakes Water Protection

By Eric Zeemering, Ph.D.
Northern Illinois University
Department of Public Administration
Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy

great lakes basin great lakes connection learning from local governments AOCs areas of concern
Credit: NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab

Pictures of the Great Lakes basin taken from outer space impress us with the geographic scope and international character of this critical freshwater resource. Seeing the lakes at this scale encourages us to think about the Great Lakes as an international resource, and we turn to institutions like the IJC and Canadian and US governments for policy leadership. Yet, many residents of the basin do not think about the Great Lakes on this scale.

As summer approaches, residents of the Great Lakes will flock to favorite lakeshore communities. The cities and local governments on the lakes are the front lines in protection and restoration efforts to keep the lakes healthy for consumption, recreation and commerce. For this reason and many others, we must invest more time and effort preparing local governments to exercise leadership in Great Lakes water protection efforts.

For almost 30 years, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement has contained provisions for the remediation of Areas of Concern (AOC) – places where pollution severely degraded the local lake ecosystem and cleanup was essential. When these AOCs were established, local public advisory committees worked with citizen groups and government agencies to develop Remedial Action Plans to clean up environmental damage and improve future water quality.

Shortly after the establishment of AOCs, various policy analyses pointed to the importance of local governments in successful remediation efforts. Now, as more AOCs near the process of “delisting,” or completing their Remedial Action Plans, local governments can provide several lessons about Great Lakes protection.

With support from CSF Associates and the Student Engagement Fund at Northern Illinois University (NIU), a team of students identified the types of actions undertaken in AOCs with high levels of reported local government involvement. These investigations identified several examples, including:

  • In the Waukegan Harbor AOC, the city of Waukegan has engaged with the community in a series of planning discussions about the future of economic development and the lakefront, as well as beach management.
  • In the St. Mary’s River AOC, the city of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, used funds from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to partner with other government agencies to improve habitat at Sherman Park.
  • In the Saginaw Bay/River AOC, local governments agreed to ban the use of phosphorous fertilizer sales in 2009 in order to improve bay and river health.
  • Duluth, Minnesota, has been engaged in the St. Louis River AOC by working on projects such as trail and habitat restoration.
  • Shoreline and habitat restoration also have been the focus of work for the Essex-Amherstburg Greenway project on the Canadian side of the Detroit River AOC.

Local governments appear to be most interested in Great Lakes water protection and remediation when beach closings and habitat restoration have been part of the local Remedial Action Plan. For two reasons, this is an important time to examine the involvement of local governments in AOCs.

First, as AOCs are delisted, local governments will play a critical role in maintaining local environmental quality in the future. Fostering their engagement now might help ensure future capacity and success.

Second, AOCs cover only a limited part of the Great Lakes. Local governments in other parts of the basin might have an interest in Great Lakes protection, but lack good examples from which to learn and apply in their community. Thus, this is an opportune time to invest in local government capacity for Great Lakes water protection.

Many governmental and nongovernment organizations are already working to foster local government involvement in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative is one of several examples of local government involvement in Great Lakes policy leadership. By learning more about local government engagement in the Great Lakes, environmental studies students at NIU hope to contribute to the ability of local governments to engage in Great Lakes protection efforts. For more information about the NIU project, see a poster on “Local Government Engagement in Great Lakes Areas of Concern.”

Stay tuned to Great Lakes Connection for a report on Areas of Concern in Canada.


IJC Staff, Board Members Present at Great Lakes Research Conference

By IJC staff

iaglr 2016 great lakes connection
The theme for the 2016 conference was “Great Lakes Solutions: Integrating Across Disciplines & Scales.” Credit: IAGLR

Every year, hundreds of the Great Lakes region’s scientists and educators present their latest research findings at the annual conference of the International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR).

The University of Guelph in Ontario hosted this year’s meeting from June 6-10, where more than 700 attendees listened to 400 presentations that spanned the gamut of Great Lakes science and management – from fisheries management and food chain dynamics to watershed case studies and remote sensing.

IJC staff attended numerous sessions and will bring the latest findings on these and other topics in upcoming issues of Great Lakes Connection.

Major topics covered at the conference included harmful algal blooms, which have plagued Lake Erie and other parts of the Great Lakes for years, as well as adapting a U.S. Geological Survey modeling program called “SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed attributes,” or SPARROW, to the binational Great Lakes basin.

This is the first time SPARROW has been used internationally on a scale as large as the Great Lakes basin, said co-SPARROW presenter Dr. Glenn Benoy, IJC senior water quality and ecosystem adviser.

The project will factor in data from tributaries and waterways connecting to the lakes to paint a complete picture of the basin. Once the finalized data is released in about six months, researchers, policymakers and the public will be able to use it identify pollution sources and causes for substances like nitrogen and phosphorus – helpful for getting issues like algal blooms under control.

“It’s important to the lakes because it would be one of the first opportunities we’ve had to bring our data and our scientific understanding together into a solution that gives us a complete picture of nutrient loading in to the entire basin,” said co-presenter and IJC senior engineering adviser Dr. Wayne Jenkinson.

Other topics discussed by IJC staff and board members at the IAGLR conference included new technologies to help monitor the health in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River water systems, a proposed new framework for reviewing Great Lakes water level regulations, and the results of a recently released Great Lakes basinwide survey.

The IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor was a sponsor and conference exhibitor, and IJC staff also participated in a session on providing the link between Great Lakes science and the public.

IAGLR 2016

Get Involved

By IJC staff

get involved public input ijc great lakes connection
Credit: George Atanassov

If you live in Canada or the United States and love the Great Lakes, there are lots of ways to get involved. Boating, fishing, swimming, or relaxing at the beach may come to mind. So should making your voice heard.

As governments in the two countries go about their work, they often ask for public comment. And just like wearing a hat when the sun is high in the sky, providing input before major decisions are made at the federal, provincial, state or local level is a good idea.

Just so you don’t get burned and miss an important opportunity, stay tuned to Great Lakes Connection for regular updates like the ones below. They start with the due date, summarize the subject, and include links to more information. Grant proposals and events will sometimes be included.

If you have something to add, post it in the comments section at the end of this article, or send a message to Executive Editor Jeff Kart at We may share it in a future column or help circulate your message on Twitter and Facebook.

Organizations ask for comments from the public because they don’t want to work in a vacuum, with only inside perspectives. You can help them get outside by participating:

Aug. 29 – Canada and the United States are seeking nominations for a second set of candidate chemicals of mutual concern under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. A first set of chemicals was released recently, and those designated will be targeted for action such as research, monitoring, surveillance and pollution prevention and control. You can make your nominations via this link.

June 25 – The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is seeking comment on a draft plan to reduce phosphorus entering Lake Erie by 40 percent by 2025. The draft is Ohio’s plan for implementing an agreement signed in June 2015 by Ohio, Michigan and Ontario leaders. You can comment at

June 17 – Local governments, schools and nonprofits may be interested in applying for a share of $250,000 in grants from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The money will help develop technology to combat harmful blooms that contain cyanotoxins and can contaminate drinking water. You can find more information here.

July 12 – Also related to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement are comments due on a draft Nearshore Framework for the Great Lakes. The Framework has to do with nearshore waters and bays along the coast of the Great Lakes, connecting river systems and the international section of the St. Lawrence River. It will allow for a comprehensive assessment with a goal to protect water quality and restore degraded areas. Information on how to comment is at

Humans Can Be Hard on Shorelines – There’s a Better Way

By Scott Tiegs, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Aquatic Ecology Lab, Department of Biological Sciences
Oakland University, Rochester Michigan

Stacey Wensink, M.S.
Special Lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences
Oakland University, Rochester Michigan

People like to be near the water, and that sentiment has led to intensive development along much of Great Lakes shoreline. How does this development impact the health of shoreline ecosystems?

Despite occupying a small fraction of the Great Lakes’ landscape, shorelines and nearshore habitats hold tremendous ecological value. Natural shorelines provide critical spawning and nursery areas for fish, feeding and nesting habitat for shorebirds, and are “hot spots” of processes that help maintain water quality. Healthy shorelines contribute to the health and productivity of the Great Lakes at large, and by extension to the well-being of our region.

However, one particular activity — shoreline hardening — has great potential to impact the ecology of shorelines and the ecosystem services they provide. Shoreline hardening involves the installation of seawalls or concrete riprap to protect waterfront property and improve lake access for humans. By design, it involves increasing shoreline slopes, and often replacing naturally fine substrate (such as sand and silt) with larger materials such as broken concrete. Hardening is extremely common in the Great Lakes region and elsewhere. For example, in Macomb County, Michigan, 89 percent of the shoreline of Lake St. Clair has been hardened.

common methods shoreline hardening great lakes connection
Common methods of shoreline hardening include concrete riprap (A), wooden cribbing (B), and seawalls (C), which dramatically alter shoreline habitats from their natural state (D). Credit: Stacey Wensink and Scott Tiegs

A recent U.S. study found that hardened shorelines function very differently than their natural counterparts. By comparing hardened and natural shorelines of Lake St. Clair in Macomb County, fundamental ecological impacts of shoreline hardening — soon to be published in the journal Freshwater Science – have been identified (see “Shoreline hardening alters freshwater shoreline ecosystems”).

Impacts of shoreline hardening included:

  • Altered physical habitat, where shoreline slope was 8.5 times steeper than the gradual transition from aquatic to terrestrial habitats normally found on natural shorelines. This minimizes the amount of shallow-water habitat and by extension the ecological functions the shoreline provides.
  • Organic matter decomposed approximately five times more slowly on shorelines hardened with riprap.
  • Reduced inputs of wrack (washed-up aquatic plants and other organic material), which normally serves as a source of lake-derived nutrients.
  • Altered macroinvertebrate communities on land in shoreline habitats.

Many of the impacts of shoreline hardening can be improved through a type of ecological restoration known as shoreline “softening.”  Aging seawalls, riprap and other hard structures can be removed and replaced by softer, more-natural substrates. Naturalizing the size and slope of sediment is critical for restoring ecological function.

Lakefront property owners should consider “soft engineering” options, where biodegradable materials and native plants are used to stabilize sediments and absorb incoming wave energy. These methods provide protection against erosion while also maintaining a healthy shoreline ecosystem.

Useful handbooks for property owners include Natural Shorelines for Inland Lakes and Native Shoreline Plant Resources. These methods provide protection against erosion while also maintaining a healthy shoreline ecosystem for wildlife.

Editor’s Note: Lakefront property owners should consult with the appropriate state/provincial and local authorities and seek the proper permits before altering the shoreline in any way.

The Agreement and You: Great Lakes Progress Reports Provide Key Opportunity to Participate in Lakes’ Future Health

Why Care about a PROP, SOGLR or TAP?

Over the next year, you’re likely to read the acronyms PROP, SOGLR and TAP several times in Great Lakes Connection.

They refer to three reports:

  • PROP, or Progress Report of the Parties, in which Canada and the United States will summarize the status of their efforts to restore and protect the Great Lakes based on the goals and objectives agreed to in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
  • SOGLR, or State of the Great Lakes Report, also written by the two countries
  • IJC’s Triennial Assessment of Progress or TAP report.

The IJC’s TAP report will analyze progress to meet the Agreement’s goals, synthesize comments by you and others on progress to restore and protect the lakes, and recommend additional or new actions to both countries.

So when you see the alphabet soup of acronyms, we encourage you to read further. And we’ll try not to use them too often. These reports will provide the most concise summary of how the Great Lakes are faring on a wide variety of issues, from nutrients causing excessive algae to aquatic invasive species and impacts from climate change.

When the reports are released – the PROP and SOGLR in September and our TAP report in January 2017 – you can participate in a series of online and in-person meetings to learn more and provide your views on the condition of the Great Lakes and the efforts in both countries to restore them. The accompanying and future articles in Great Lakes Connection will provide additional details about the reports and the meetings.

We look forward to your participation in this process.

Dereth Glance                                                            Richard Morgan

US Commissioner                                                       Canadian Commissioner

The Agreement and You: Great Lakes Progress Reports Provide Key Opportunity to Participate in Lakes’ Future Health

By IJC staff

great lakes water quality agreement 1972
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, signed in 1972, was most recently revised in 2012. Credit: Monique Myre

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is often cited as one of the most forward-thinking international agreements to protect, restore and enhance a specific aquatic ecosystem. Federal, state and provincial laws and programs – including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the United States and the Canada-Ontario Agreement – were created to provide funding and fulfill the Agreement’s goals. Collectively, they reflect the immense value of the lakes to both countries and their citizens.

The two countries recognized that the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement would need to change as existing issues are more clearly understood and to adapt to new challenges facing the lakes. Thus, each of the Agreement’s four iterations since its creation in 1972 has included a review process between and among governments, the IJC and the public.

The federal governments or “Parties” report every three years on progress. The IJC then gathers views on the condition of the Great Lakes and the efforts in both countries to restore them through a variety of in-person, written and online avenues. We write our own independent assessment of progress to restore and protect the Great Lakes, now called a Triennial Assessment of Progress or TAP report, which includes a synthesis of citizen comments and recommendations for future actions and priorities.

Another review period begins in September 2016, when the governments will release two reports on progress to restore the lakes (officially called the Progress Report of the Parties, or PROP; and the State of the Great Lakes Report, or SOGLR). While SOGLR will provide detailed scientific information on the state of each lake, the PROP will address how they are meeting the Agreement’s goals, and what work still needs to be completed. Given that virtually every issue faced by one or more of the lakes has been addressed in one way or another in the Agreement and its resulting programs and projects, consider these upcoming reports to be essential reading.

In the most recent revision in 2012, the United States and Canada expanded the Agreement to commit to specific programs and deadlines to address several existing and emerging challenges to the lakes. These include:

  • Identifying and reducing chemicals of mutual concern from entering the lakes
  • Refocused efforts on reducing phosphorus and other nutrients that are threatening Lake Erie and other areas in the Great Lakes
  • Controlling and reducing discharges from vessels
  • Reducing and eliminating aquatic nuisance species and preventing new ones from entering the lakes
  • Restoring and enhancing native species and their habitats
  • Identifying impacts to the lakes from groundwater and climate change.

The two governments also committed to holding a Great Lakes Public Forum every three years to present the findings in their progress report, or PROP. After the PROP is released in September, the forum will be held at the Allstream Centre in Toronto, Ontario, on Oct. 3-6 to summarize and discuss both countries’ findings. The event is free and open to everyone to attend. You can find out more at

Given that not everyone can attend these day-long sessions, the IJC is developing several ways for the public to participate in the forum: through live and recorded web streaming; on an e-democracy internet platform; via opportunities for written comments to the IJC before, during and after the forum; and at a public meeting on the evening of Oct. 5 at City Hall in downtown Toronto.

toronto city hall
Toronto’s City Hall. Credit: S. Cole-Misch

The IJC will hold another evening public meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Oct. 18 to provide the opportunity for citizens on the other side of the Great Lakes basin to learn more about the countries’ progress reports and provide comments. Details about each of these options will be provided in upcoming issues of Great Lakes Connection.

That’s what’s up this fall. Your time to read and participate in this review process is essential, because it ensures that the Agreement stands as one of the world’s best models of international, democratic cooperation to protect the health and future of the Great Lakes. Their vitality depends on our collective understanding, commitment and actions to restore and protect them. That’s how democracy works.

Great Lakes Watermark – Contribute Your Own on New Website

Paddling and Flying

By IJC staff

Our Great Lakes Watermark project continues this month with stories from Jill Bartolotta, an educator with Ohio Sea Grant, and Jennifer Nalbone of Buffalo, New York.

The IJC is partnering with Lake Ontario Waterkeeper to collect and publish a special Great Lakes Watermark collection. We’re compiling video, audio and written stories of your personal, emotional and cultural connections to the lakes, and ways you use and value these precious bodies of water.

Watch below. Great Lakes watermarks also are being posted to a new Watermark project page at, where you can contribute your own story.

Great Lakes Learning: From Algae to Zooplankton

By Kara Lynn Dunn
New York Sea Grant Great Lakes

Ever wondered how fish hear, what they eat, or what they might say about the conditions of a local river?

New York Sea Grant (NYSG) educators can help you find answers to these and other questions about living in the eastern end of the Great Lakes region.

an examination of fish ears new york sea grant
Above, an examination of fish ears, called otoliths, helps determine the age of the fish. Credit: Kara Lynn Dunn

K-12 educators who attend summer workshops with NYSG Coastal Education Specialist Helen Domske may examine fish ears, called otoliths, under a microscope to determine the age of a fish, dissect fish guts to analyze its diet, or visit with weather forecasters at the National Weather Service: Buffalo.

“First-hand experience is the basis for building exciting lesson plans to engage youth in becoming environmental stewards,” Domske says.

This “teach the teacher” approach, which engages educators in experiential learning with classroom-tested curriculum, was developed by NYSG and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Workshop participants infuse Great Lakes information on topics from algal blooms to zooplankton into their classrooms to prompt student interest in the environment. Student-led projects created as a result have included beach and stream cleanups, building and installing wood duck nest boxes, and local invasive species mapping.

Domske also periodically leads workshops that take place aboard US research vessels monitoring the Great Lakes, offering teachers the opportunity to directly interact with scientists working on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. In 2014 and 2015, Domske worked with nearly 250 teachers who impacted the lives of nearly 25,000 students.

After a workshop along the Buffalo River, Amanda Jasper of the Global Concepts Charter School in Lackawanna, New York, concentrated instruction in her Advanced Placement Biology curriculum on the history and environmental concerns of the river. Her students created a public service announcement video to raise awareness of local issues.

Williamsville High School students took a “LEAP” forward with teacher Kim Preshoff, starting a Leaders for Environmental Awareness and Protection (LEAP) Club. They established a plastic water bottle recycling program to reduce the waste stream, and encouraged use of refillable bottles.

In addition to NOAA, partners in this educational outreach have included the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Center for Great Lakes Literacy, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, universities and colleges, and local organizations and site managers.

New York Sea Grant Great Lakes educators are based in Buffalo, Newark, and Oswego. For updates on NYSG activities in Great Lakes and marine districts of New York, see with RSS, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube links.


Other Sea Grant Programs

New York Sea Grant is just one of several NOAA educational programs in the Great Lakes region. You can find out more about workshops and other Sea Grant activities near you by visiting these links: