Lake Erie, with a surface area of 25,700 square kilometers and a water volume of 484 cubic kilometers, is the fourth largest of the five Great Lakes of North America in terms of surface area, and the smallest among them in terms of water volume. The lake is located at the boundary between the Canadian province of Ontario and the United States. While Ontario lies to the north of this lake, the eastern, western, and southern boundaries of Lake Erie are shared with the US states of New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. A large number of tributaries are received by the lake on both the U.S. and Canadian sides, while it discharges its waters into the Niagara River that rises from its eastern end. A large number of islands dot the surface of the lake at its western end, the largest being the Pelee Island of Ontario.
Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, Lake Erie was occupied by native Amer-Indian tribes. The Erie tribe and the Neutrals (also referred to as the Chonnonton or Attawandarons) lived along the southern and northern shores of the lake, respectively. The Beaver Wars, waged between 1651 and 1657, led to the incorporation of both these tribes into the Iroquois Confederacy. The supremacy of the Iroquois was lost in the latter part of the 17th Century to be replaced by other native Indian tribes. As per reports, Louis Jolliet, a French Canadian explorer, was the first European to sight Lake Erie in 1669. In the early 19th Century, the first European settlements started to form around the shores of the lake under the guidance of Colonel Talbot. Lake Erie also witnessed conflict in the War of 1812 when, in 1813, the British fleets on the lake were captured by the American naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry. In the 1950s, commercial fisheries and maritime traffic developed on the lake to a greater degree than ever before, and settlements grew along the shores of the lake at a rapid pace.
As per reports from recent studies, commercial fisheries in Ontario generate an income of $305 million USD annually, of which Lake Erie’s fisheries account for a share of $244 million USD (80%). The commercial fishing industry and fish processing industry of Lake Erie employs around 1,490 people in Ontario, and generates tax revenues of over $20 million USD annually for the province. Lake Erie also serves as a popular tourist spot, and one where thousands of divers visit the lake each year to delve into its waters to observe the numerous shipwrecks in its depths. Biking, kayaking, ice fishing, and sport fishing are also other important tourist activities in the region. The recreational activities on Lake Erie generate around $1.4 billion USD annually. 11 million people also depend on this lake for their source of drinking water, and the favorable climate of the region also supports the growth of vineyards and wineries in the Lake Erie region, which adds even more income still to the local economies in both Canada and the United States.
Habitat and Biodiversity
Lake Erie, being the southernmost of the five Great Lakes of North America, is also the warmest among them. The summer temperatures of the lake range between 21o Celsius and 24o Celsius, though the winter temperatures still often fall below freezing. Despite its warmer average temperatures, due to the relative shallowness of the lake, proportionally larger areas of its surface freeze during winters than is seen in the other Great Lakes. Lake Erie has a more diverse and abundant fish population than the other Great Lakes due to its relatively milder climate and large supply of plankton, which is the basic foundational food source at the bottom of the lake’s food chain. Native species like pickerels, walleye, trout, salmon, and whitefish, and non-native ones like common carp, rainbow smelt, and rainbow trout, are some of the fish species inhabiting Lake Erie. A top predator of the Lake Erie food chain, the Lake Erie water snake, which is a non-venomous snake, can also be spotted in this lake.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
Currently, algal blooms in Lake Erie pose a giant problem, and one threatening the future of the lake. Pollution of the lake waters with phosphorus from fertilizers used in agricultural fields and domestic lawns is regarded as the primary culprit behind such algal blooms. Cyano-toxins produced by these cyano-bacteria could cause significant health impacts on the human populations dependent on Lake Erie for their water sources. Important species of the lake, such as the Lake Erie water snake, are now fighting for their survival, as habitat loss triggered by shoreline development, and deaths by car accidents and killing by humans, are steadily decreasing the numbers of these native Lake Erie species.