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Shoreland Management

bluff erosion in Muskegon County, MI
Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

Shoreland Management

The shorelands of the Great Lakes are adjacent to the water’s edge and beach. These areas are very dynamic as they respond to wind, waves, water levels, storms, and development. Proposed activities on the shorelands of the Great Lakes are regulated by several Michigan laws codified in the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 Public Act 451, as amended (NREPA). Part 323, Shorelands Protection and Management, identifies the threats to people from the natural hazards of coastal erosion and flooding. Part 323 also protects specific areas of coastal wetlands known as environmental areas. Other NREPA laws which may regulate resources near shorelands include Part 325, Great Lakes Submerged Lands, and Part 353, Sand Dunes Protection and Management.

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Iosco County Recession Rate Study 2023

High-Risk Erosion Areas

The shorelines of the Great Lakes are a dynamic and quickly changing environment.  A high risk of losing a structure due to erosion has been identified on specific shorelines around the state. 

Environmental Areas

Environmental areas are sensitive coastal sites necessary for the preservation and maintenance of fish and wildlife.

How much Great Lake shoreline does Michigan have?

Michigan has 3,288 miles of Great Lake shoreline - the longest freshwater coastline in the world.  Of this total, 1,056 miles are the shorelines of islands.

What are the different shoreline types?

Michigan’s coast is made up of several types of shorelines because of the local geology. Each shoreline type is home to a variety of natural communities, recreation opportunities, and scenic views.

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes are one of the most well-known and liked of the shoreline types. These shorelines can be found on all of the Great Lakes, but occur most frequently along the west facing coastlines of Lake Michigan and Superior where wind and sand worked together to build the dunes.
Image from Laketown Township showing a foredune


Bluffs composed of clay, sand, and gravel deposited by glaciers occur along the Great Lakes. Sand and gravel bluffs were created when sand and gravel was deposited by melting glaciers. Clay bluffs are found where clay was deposited at the bottom of glacial lakes. These bluffs are home to a unique erosion dependent natural community.
Clay bluff on one of Michigan's Great Lakes shorelines

Coastal Wetlands

Coastal wetlands are some of the most biologically diverse places in the state and play a critical role in the health of the Great Lakes.  Covering over 275,000 acres, these wetlands occur along all of the Great Lakes but are most common along Lake Huron and Lake Erie. These shorelines provide critical spawning habitat for many of Michigan’s favorite fish species.
Saginaw Bay coastal wetland


Bedrock shorelines occur where the rock that underlies all of Michigan is exposed at the surface. The rock that makes up these shorelines is much older than the sediments of the other shoreline types and ranges from 300 million to over 2 billion years old! Bedrock shorelines are most common along Lake Superior and Lake Huron and can be found at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior and Point Aux Barques on Lake Huron.
A reddish-orange rocky cliff, part of Pictured Rock National Lakeshore overlooking Lake Superior

Why do shorelines change?

One of the most interesting aspects of Michigan’s shorelands is that they are constantly changing. Waves, wind, currents, ice, and the actions of people are constantly moving sand, gravel, and clay soils onto and off the shoreline causing both buildup (accretion) and erosion. The water levels of the Great Lakes change over short and long periods of time. During a low water period large beaches form and wetland vegetation may expand, during high water periods beaches and dunes erode and bluffs may fall into the lake. By giving our coasts the space to change, we can protect our shorelands for generations to come.