The end of 2006 marks my second year with Biohabitats, and what a busy and exciting year it has been. During the last six months alone, I participated in numerous Great Lakes-focused conferences and seminars and had the pleasure of meeting some of the most passionate supporters and practitioners of conservation, restoration and regenerative design I have ever come across in my career. I am excited to share this enthusiasm about the Great Lakes Region and its incredible natural resources with you.

My husband and I have lived in the Cleveland area for the last five years, but I am originally from Puerto Rico. As one who grew up appreciating first-hand the distinct beauty, unique vistas and natural wonder of islands, I thought it only natural to present a brief introduction to the amazing islands of the Great Lakes.

During the State of Lake Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC) 2006, we learned that there are 31,407 Great Lakes islands. They range in size from a small boulder to over 100,000 acres. In comparison, the Caribbean Islands consist of only about 7,000 islands.

So what is so special about these Great Lakes Islands?

Great Lakes Islands are the largest fresh water and inland system in the world, with biodiversity that is of global significance. The largest fresh water island is Manitoulin (80 miles long) in Lake Huron. The majority of the islands (about 22,000) are in the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. Many of the larger islands are in Lake Superior. A little over 3,000 are in the U.S., with the remainder in Canadian waters. The islands make up one percent of the land area of the Great Lakes, yet they provide 10 percent of the endangered, threatened and rare species habitats that live in the basin.

The islands provide habitat for fish and colonial nesting waterbirds, stopover sites for migratory birds, and a refuge for endangered and threatened species. They can provide relatively undisturbed habitat that may have fewer predators, allowing vulnerable species to survive.

The Great Lakes Islands face numerous threats. Many have recreation, commercial and residential use.  Their popularity has ironically been the prime cause of the unintentional destruction of natural plant and animal communities. Native plant and animal communities on and around islands are vulnerable to invasion by non-native species (purple loosestrife, zebra and quagga mussels). Other threats include sewage disposal, toxic contamination through heavy metals and pesticides, runoff from agricultural, urbanization and air pollution. Stresses also include habitat loss, fragmentation and climate change.

Of all of the islands in the Great Lakes, Isle Royale catches my interest because of its one sentence description: There’s no place like it, for Isle Royale IS what America WAS. Here is some history.

The French, lured by the fur trade, named the island in 1671. Isle Royale became U.S. territory in 1783 and was ceded to the United States by the Chippewa in 1843. It was mined for copper from 1843 to 1899. Large areas of forest were burned to expose the ore and to build settlements. In the early 1900s the island became a popular vacation retreat.

Isle Royale National Park was established in 1933 and is the U.S.’s only island national park. It spans 571,790 acres (231,575 hectares) and consists of about 200 islands, in Lake Superior, NW Michigan. Isle Royale, 210 sq mi (544 sq km), is the largest island in Lake Superior. A prime example of Northwoods Wilderness, Isle Royale was designated an International Biosphere Reserve (IBR) by the United Nations, giving it international scientific and education significance. (There are only 496 IBR in the world.) Glaciated, the island has many lakes, streams, and inlets and remains a roadless, forested wilderness. Its abundant wildlife includes beaver, fox, moose, timber wolves, and many birds.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief, introductory journey to the Great LakesIslands. I encourage you to continue the trip by following the links below for additional information.

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