Great Lakes Ohio Recreation

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Climate Change in Ohio
Monarch Butterfly
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Climate Change Impacts:
Recreation and Tourism

With travelers spending $23 billion in 2001, tourism is one of Ohio's major economic sectors. Ohio boasts an exceptional state park system that hosts 60 million visitors a year, but it is the beautiful Lake Erie shoreline that draws most visitors. Climate change will affect the type of recreational experiences available in Ohio, with the most certain impacts on winter sport activities.

Among the potential impacts that Ohio is likely to experience are:

  • A Change in the Distribution of Fish Species
    Boy with WalleyeAs waters warm, the types of fish species that inhabit them will likely change. Increases or declines of preferred catch, as a result of range shifts, loss of habitat, and increases or declines of fish populations, will affect Ohio anglers. Warm-water fish species such as smallmouth bass or bluegill are likely to expand their range northward. Cold-water species and even some cool-water fish may disappear from southern parts of the region. Lake Erie's world famous Walleye fisheries—which attract anglers from throughout the region and contribute significantly to Ohio's economy—could be impacted. In 2001, anglers caught an estimated 1.2 million Walleye on the waters of Lake Erie.

  • An Increase in Summer Stratification
    Stratification of lakes occurs when a warm surface layer of water develops over cooler, deeper water. A warming climate increases the duration of summer stratification in the deep lakes. This, in turn, makes frequent and larger "dead zones"—areas of water depleted of oxygen and unable to support life—more likely. This is especially the case for Lake Erie—the shallowest of the Great Lakes. Persistent dead zones can result in toxic algal blooms, foul-smelling, musty-tasting drinking water, damage to fisheries, and massive fish kills—known as "summerkill".

  • A Decrease in Winter Ice
    Declines in the duration of winter ice on lakes are expected to continue. The loss of winter ice may be a mixed blessing for fish, reducing winterkill from oxygen deficits in shallow lakes but also jeopardizing reproduction of whitefish in the Great Lakes bays, where ice cover protects the eggs from winter storm disturbance.

  • An Expanded Summer Recreation Season, with Risks
    As temperatures warm further, extreme heat, extreme storms, elevated ozone levels, and possible increases in risk from insect-and waterborne diseases will affect beachgoers and boaters, and may involve some restrictions and require behavioral adjustments by tourists and local outdoor enthusiasts.

  • An Increase in the Accumulation of Contaminants in Fish
    Lower oxygen and warmer temperatures promote greater microbial decomposition and subsequent release of contaminants from bottom sediments. Thus, the accumulation of mercury and other contaminants in the aquatic food chain may accelerate.

  • A Loss of Bird Diversity
    A warming climate will drive complex changes in habitat, food resources, and other factors that will likely diminish bird diversity. Specifically, earlier spring runoff, more intense flooding, and lower summer water levels generally spell growing challenges for Ohio's wetlands and the species that depend on them. Already, development has significantly reduced Ohio's wetland habitat. Ohio's Great Black Swamp, once about the size of Connecticut, has been reduced to 5% of it's original area. Inventories of existing peatlands compared to inventories early in the 20th century estimate loss at 96%. The loss of these resources limit the habitat or food resources for migratory birds, shorebirds, and waterfowl and will affect Ohio's birdwatching and hunting industries.

Photo Credits:
Monarch Butterfly -- Ohio Department of Natural Rescources, Mike Williams and Tim Daniel.
Boy with Walleye -- Tim Daniel (Courtesy of Ohio DNR).
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