High water levels leading to eroding shorelines have been front-page news in recent months. Shoreline erosion is a concern for Michigan property owners with homes located on one of our Great Lakes or on an inland lake. While we can’t control how Mother Nature effects our water levels there are steps that property owners can do to minimize shoreline erosion on their property.   These steps can also improve the quality of the water as well as the quality of lakeshore habitat used by wildlife.  Rebecca Humphries from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources states, “Recent studies have shown how critical shoreline habitats are to the health of the lake. If you want great fishing you need to protect the shoreline.‘


Many lakeshore property owners like to have green lawns and a manicured beach. This eye pleasing approach to landscaping is not beneficial to wildlife and plants dependent on the lake for survival.  According to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy the top threat to inland lakes is the loss of lakeshore habitat. Over 50% of Michigan’s inland lakes have been rated with poor shoreline habitat. Shoreline areas provide essential habitat to our native wildlife, fish, and vegetation.  Overdeveloped and poorly planned development around lakes leads to habitat destruction and the declining health of a lake.


What is natural shoreline habitat?


A natural shoreline area is an undisturbed area along a body of water where the land meets the water and has not been changed by human interaction. This area also includes food, water, shelter, and space to meet the needs of the native wildlife living in or near the lake. This area, also known as the water’s edge, supports many different types of wildlife. Many fish, reptiles, and amphibians use these areas for feeding and laying eggs.  The water’s edge provides nesting and feeding areas for many types of birds, like waterfowl or shorebirds. Shoreline habitat also includes aquatic vegetation used by wildlife as a food source and a place for shelter.


What Happens When the Natural Shoreline is Changed?

·      Erosion- removal of aquatic vegetation leads to erosion along the banks of the lake and the lake bottom

·      Lower water quality- when erosion occurs the lake water becomes cloudy which makes it difficult for aquatic wildlife to find food

·      Green-water/algae blooms- run-off from mowed lawns can carry fertilizer into the lake where it can fuel algae growth

·      Nuisance wildlife problems- traditional lawns attract geese

·      Decreasing aquatic wildlife populations- removing aquatic vegetation and adding sand to beaches and swimming areas can cause a decrease in fish and other aquatic animal populations


What About Seawalls?

In the past, lakeshore property owners have turned to seawalls to minimize erosion caused by waves. A sea wall is any hard-surfaced wall installed along the shore to stop the waves from reaching the shore. Seawalls can be made of wood, concrete, metal, or rock. These walls are considered more stable than eroding shoreline, however, they cause problems in the lake such as:

·      Creating a wildlife barrier- aquatic wildlife are not able to reach the shore where they feed and lay eggs

·      Scouring the lake bottom- wave energy is directed down and erosion occurs at the base and to the sides of the seawall


How to Improve Your Properties Shoreline:

·      Install a buffer zone- leaving or planting a buffer of natural vegetation can reduce erosion, maintain water quality, and provide habitat for wildlife

·      Native plants- leave or plant native aquatic plants to help support lake wildlife and minimize erosion

·      Limit turfgrass- turfgrass has shallow roots and requires lots of maintenance

·      Minimize impervious surfaces such as concrete or asphalt- this will decrease the amount of run-off containing chemicals from getting into the lake

·      Leave fallen trees- fallen trees in the water will provide habitat for fish and wildlife

·      Use minimal sand- minimize the size of your sandy beach to allow for more natural vegetation onshore and in the water

·      Use bioengineering- also known as lakescaping, is a method using native plants, biodegradable products (biologs or erosion control blankets) and other natural materials (rock) to provide a stable shoreline


Healthy lakes have functioning ecosystems that can support native wildlife and vegetation. Lakeshore development can be done in ways to minimize the negative impact on the lake. This will require the joint effort of everyone in the community to ensure that our lakes remain a place for leisure, relaxation, and recreation.


Andrea is the Education Coordinator and one of the Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control Agents for Missaukee Conservation District. For more information on Natural Shorelines visit the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership at http://www.mishorelinepartnership.org/ or contact Andrea Mayer at the Missaukee Conservation District at 231.839.7193 or at andrea.mayer@macd.org