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Great Lakes Awareness Day – May 1, 2023

These five beautiful lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario — are celebrated on Great Lakes Awareness Day, which takes place on the Monday in the first full week of May. This year, it takes place on May 1. This event is the United States’ chance to honor this series of large interconnected freshwater lakes that (mostly) border us. Celebrations on this day have also taken on themes like water conservation, lake preservation, and other current issues and have included participation by aquariums, schools, governing bodies, and even museums.

The annual observation started as a protest against the advancement of the highly dangerous Line 5 pipeline passing through Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Since 2018, the day is all about raising awareness regarding the grave issues that threaten the freshwater ecosystem of the Great Lakes.

History of Great Lakes Awareness Day

Most people believe that Lake Erie came into its current state of being some 10,000 years ago, while Lake Ontario was around 7,000 years ago, and Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior were formed (at present-day levels) around 3,000 years ago. But, lakes are everywhere, so these five shouldn’t have attracted any special interest. The main reason (at least initially) for the Great Lakes gaining prominence was their ability to provide very easy transportation routes into the heart of the American continent.

Then, people started seeing the forests and fertile lands around these lakes — perfect for agriculture, lumbering, and other activities. The perfect addition to this was the plentiful deposits of natural minerals found on the shorelines of these lakes, including iron, salt, copper, large coal mines, limestone, and more. These resources, plus the abundant water supply, made these lakes very attractive for development, and the shores were soon lined with huge industries and large metropolitan areas.

Of course, the excess human population and activity around the lakes had to have consequences, which were first officially noticed around the 1900s. By 1950, a high number of beaches had to be closed down because of pollution and unsafe conditions. The wildlife from the areas surrounding the lakes began to exhibit signs of toxic substances. These incidents, plus the pollution in the rivers and the extinction of certain water-based animals, gave the authorities a giant wake-up call. By the 1970s, the governments of both America and Canada — these lakes travel through both nations — had begun to collaboratively work on pollution control in these lakes.

These two countries even signed a ‘Great Lakes Water Quality Act’ in 1972 to protect and conserve the Great Lakes. Since that time, the Great Lakes have benefitted from multiple conservation efforts — both governmental and private — and now have an improved water quality. Some fish populations have even begun to repopulate these waters after many years. Held since 2014, the Great Lakes Awareness Day creates exactly what it aims: awareness. Students are encouraged to find solutions to pollution problems, and their projects are highlighted on this day.

Great Lakes Awareness Day celebrates one of nature’s most glorious wonders — the largest group of freshwater bodies on Earth — saddled up in North America. The Great Lakes is the collective name for Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Erie. The lakes together make up the largest group of freshwater bodies on Earth, stretching from east to west and covering a distance of 750 miles. Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. It covers more than 80% of the water requirement of the continent. 

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Great Lakes for the people of North America. Great Lakes Awareness Day raises important questions and demands accountability from leaders who are in charge of protecting these majestic water bodies. 

The holiday is an awareness campaign that illustrates the dangers that the Great Lakes face. An alarming number of issues endanger the Great Lakes, including pollution, climate change, carbon dioxide emissions, and invasive pipelines. Although the federal government has tried to restore the balance with more than 140 programs, it still isn’t enough. As the United States and Canada share the five lakes, both governments need to work in unison to combat the issues that threaten the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem.

It also illuminates the ways in which climate change will impact our habitat and the way we live, starting with the water bodies on Earth. Needless to say that the impact of climate change can already be felt at the Great Lakes, with the changes in size and shape of Algae, the primary constituent of the underwater food web.

Great Lakes Awareness Day timeline

1634
The Discovery

European explorers Jean Nicollet and Louis Jolliet reach Lakes Erie and Michigan.

1848
Early Scientific Studies

Many explorers record and write about fluctuating water levels, but Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz is the first to conduct a purely scientific expedition on Lake Superior's north shore.

1909
The Boundary Waters Treaty

On January 11, the United States and Canada sign a treaty to stave off any existing or potential shared water-related disputes among the two countries.

1930
The Great Expansion

The population around the Great Lakes basin reaches 23 million.

1969
The Start of Environmental Action

In June, a fire breaks out on the Cuyahoga River — which feeds Lake Erie — resulting in multiple environmental regulations aimed at cleaning up the Great Lakes.

1972
The Neighborhood Watch

The United States and Canada join hands and sign two Great Lakes Water Quality Agreements to reduce pollution in and around the Great Lakes.

1975
Another Victim of 'Shipwreck Coast'

Hundreds of ships have met an unfortunate demise in a stretch of water on southern Lake Superior between Munising, Michigan, and Whitefish Point, the latest being the 'SS Edmund Fitzgerald'.

2017
The Day is Celebrated

The Great Lakes Awareness Day is celebrated across American schools.

Great Lakes Awareness Day FAQs

What is Great Lakes Day?

Ontario, Canada celebrates its own Great Lakes Day on June 7, while the United States has an annual Great Lakes Day Congressional Reception, which is also called Great Lakes Day. Both events prominently feature issues, priorities, and various Great Lakes policies for honoring these amazing water sources.

Why are the five Great Lakes important?

The Great Lakes are rich in natural resources, providing people with food, water, and means of transportation. Plus, they’re a huge tourist attraction — people go there for the water sports, fishing, hunting, e.t.c. — so they’re padding the regional economy too.

What is the saying for the Great Lakes?

An easy way to remember the names of all five Great Lakes is the saying: Super Heroes Must Eat Oats (Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, Ontario). Another cool way is to remember the acronym HOMES.

How to Observe Great Lakes Awareness Day

  1. Plan a trip to the Great Lakes

    Pick one and enjoy a day near the water. Make it a group trip and explore various water-related activities, too. More than 6,000 ships have been consumed by the depth of the Great Lakes, totaling an average human loss of around 30,000. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum keeps a record of the sunken ships, recovered artifacts, and other information. Touring the museum is a reminder of the wrath of the Great Lakes.

  2. Check out local events

    Search for organizations near you that are holding special activities on this day. If you can, attend these either virtually or physically.

  3. Get involved in conservation efforts

    There might be multiple issues the Great Lakes face. Learn about them and check if there is any way you can help. Organize an event, attend a protest, and register your support in the movement to save the Great Lakes from imminent danger. Take the day to learn about the origins of the lakes and get a record of the existing conservation efforts directed at its preservation.

5 Thrilling Facts About The Great Lakes Of North America

  1. The only one in U.S. territory

    At least Lake Michigan is entirely on U.S. soil, as all the other Great Lakes touch Canada.

  2. Lake Superior is very deep

    It's so deep that the entire Empire State Building would get submerged, with only the antennae peeking out of the water.

  3. One of them has a sea monster

    Allegedly, there's a sea monster-like animal called Bessie in Lake Erie.

  4. The lake names are unique

    They're all named after Native American tribes who originally lived on the shores, or have French names — Lake Erie for the Erie Tribe, Huron for the Huron tribe, Michigan for the French version of an Ojibwa word, 'michigami.'

  5. The largest freshwater system in the world

    Spanning 94,600 square miles, the five Great Lakes provide more than 20% of the world's fresh water.

Why Great Lakes Awareness Day is Important

  1. It’s the largest freshwater system in the world

    Not only are they a huge source of fresh water, but they also provide water to more than 40 million people. They provide a home to more than 4,000 species of wildlife. There are innumerable ways in which the Great Lakes serve us. Not only is it collectively the biggest group of freshwater bodies on Earth, but it also inhibits the largest and most diverse freshwater ecosystem of flora and fauna that feeds millions of people. Protecting and preserving the Great Lakes for future generations is our solemn duty, and on the first Monday of May, we register our protest against the dangerous oil pipelines and other environmental encroachments.

  2. They have faced plenty of issues

    Pollution, the introduction of invasive species, and other issues have plagued the Great Lakes for years. This day raises awareness about these issues and hopefully increases efforts to solve them. Activists and environmentalists have termed the aging Line 5 pipeline as “a ticking time bomb” that can explode at any minute and cause catastrophic and irreversible damage to the Great Lakes. The annual observation raises awareness about this cause and many other projects that deeply endanger our ecosystem.

  3. Water conservation is more important than ever

    In this time of drastic climate change and global warming, every single effort towards conservation and related activities helps us protect our planet a little more. Conserving natural resources such as the Great Lakes is crucial. The conservation efforts of the Great Lakes must include all the beneficiaries of the lakes. Being the largest system of freshwater on our planet, it is our duty to cherish, protect, and preserve the fragile ecosystem of the Great Lakes.

Great Lakes Awareness Day dates

YearDateDay
2022May 2Monday
2023May 1Monday
2024May 6Monday
2025May 5Monday
2026May 4Monday
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