Lake Ontario - Lakes of the World

Nighttime descends upon the shores of Lake Ontario.

5. Description

Lake Ontario is bounded by the United States and Canada, and of economic importance to both countries, as well as an important showcase of the biodiversity found among the 5 Great Lakes of North America. As one of five Great Lakes of North America, it is also the smallest. It’s shared by the U.S. state of New York and the Canadian province of Ontario. Lake Ontario’s length is 193 miles, and its breadth is 53 miles. Its water surface area is 7,340 square miles, and has an average depth of 86 meters, with the maximum depth being 244 meters, according to a study by the Michigan Sea Grant. Including its islands, the lake’s shoreline length is 712 miles, and its water volume contains 393 cubic miles. Lake Ontario’s total drainage basin area is 24,720 square miles, and includes parts of New York, Ontario, and Pennsylvania. Its outlet to the Atlantic Ocean starts from the Saint Lawrence River, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

4. Historical Role

French explorer Samuel De Champlain first named the lake Saint Louis in 1632. Then, in 1660, Franciscus Creuxius renamed it Lake Ontario, which inthe Iroquoian First Nation language means "lake of shining waters". According to the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper (LOW), Lake Ontario’s first inhabitants were the First Nations Aboriginal Canadians who arrived as early as 7,000 years ago. During the most recent post-glacial period, Atlantic salmon population invaded Lake Ontario and adapted to freshwater living conditions. The salmon were worshiped by the First Nations, and became important components of their diets. In the 1700s, the Atlantic salmon population at Lake Ontario began to decline due to commercial fisheries, deforestation due to agriculture, and industrialization. By the middle of the 19th Century, conservation efforts had began to restore the salmon population, according to Bring Back the Salmon of Lake Ontario.

3. Modern Significance

In Canada, Lake Ontario borders Hamilton and Toronto. It’s useful for transportation of goods across New York and Ontario, as well as for recreation and fishing. Today, nearly half of Ontario’s province population, over 6 million people, depend on the lake as a source for drinking water. Lake Ontario is also a vibrant tourism hub, and over one million people visit the neighboring Niagara Peninsula annually. The peninsula also has the famed Niagara Falls, and is on the South Shore of Lake Ontario, according to Niagara Fall Tourism. Scenic cruises and boat rides are offered around the lake from either side of the US-Canada border of the lake. On either side of Ontario and New York are commercial orchards for fruits like apples, cherries, pears, plums, and peaches.

2. Habitat and Biodiversity

As part of the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario environment provides habitat and food for wildlife like the Gray wolf, Canadian lynx, and millions of the migratory birds that fly through the area during spring and fall. The lake's waters also provide habitats to fish species like the walleye, whitefish, Brown trout, Rainbow trout, Coho and Chinook salmon, and the Lake sturgeon, according to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). The biodiversity's habitats around Lake Ontario is comprised of beaches, dunes, shoreline forests, coastal wetlands, and islands, according to Conservation Gateway. This area also provides an ecosystem to live in for over 10 million people, according to the State of Ontario’s Biodiversity, as its drainage basin is densely populated.

1. Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes

Of all the Great Lakes of North America, Lake Ontario biodiversity is the most threatened. Negative human activities like overfishing over the years have resulted in extinction of at least 10 fish species in Lake Ontario, according to LOW. The most protracted threats on the lake today come from urban and industrial development, electricity generation, and pollution from sewers and storm waters. Huge numbers of toxic invasive species, like the toxic blue green algae, are destroying the Lake Ontario native species, all the while sickening people and poisoning their pets, according to Planet Save. Mercury and industrial deposits like PCB near the lake are other pollution risks. Other threats come from invasive species like the Sea lampreys, Zebra mussels, and Quagga mussels, which compete with native aquatic species.


More in Environment