Supporting Habitat and Resilience in Saginaw Bay

Saginaw Bay is home to rich habitats full of fish, birds, plants, and other life. However, human activities have damaged these habitats over time. In addition, coastal communities are seeing effects of increased environmental stressors on shoreline areas. 

Healthy habitats and improved natural shoreline processes are vital to ensuring a strong, beautiful, and resilient Saginaw Bay for today and future generations. 

Many partners are working hard to improve resilience and bring aquatic habitats back to life in Saginaw Bay. Explore the projects and FAQs below to learn more.


Why are nearshore habitats important?

Many fish use nearshore rocky or protected areas for spawning (laying and fertilizing their eggs). Historically, inner Saginaw Bay had rocky underwater reefs formed by glacial deposits. These reefs provided safe spaces for native fish to lay eggs. Crevices among the rocks protected eggs and young fish from predators and strong currents. Young fish also sheltered in coastal wetlands until they were large enough to swim into the open waters of Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. Predators such as other fish and shorebirds hunted for prey fish in these nearshore areas.

Which types of fish rely on spawning reefs and other nearshore habitats?

Many native fish use rocky reefs during one or more parts of their life cycle: cisco, walleye, lake sturgeon, lake whitefish, lake trout, smallmouth bass, burbot, suckers, and more. The destruction of natural reefs contributed to the crash of Saginaw Bay’s walleye population in the 1940s.

What happened to the Bay’s nearshore habitats?

As human development increased in Michigan, activities like logging, agriculture, and manufacturing began changing Saginaw Bay. Rocky reefs that once served as safe nurseries and spawning areas for native fish have been smothered by blankets of sediment. Many wetlands that protected coasts and provided food and shelter for fish and other wildlife have been drained or filled. Habitat loss contributed to the decline or collapse of several local fish populations and left coastal communities vulnerable to flooding and the impacts of storms and changing water levels.

Why should we restore lost habitat? Why now?

Healthy fish populations and diverse habitats are key to a strong, resilient Saginaw Bay. Thanks to lots of funding and hard work, Saginaw Bay is making progress toward recovering from human impacts and supporting more resilient coastal communities. Legislation passed in the 1970s, such as the Clean Water Act and Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, fueled regulations and behavior changes that reduced sediment and contaminant run-off into rivers and lakes. While challenges still remain, Saginaw Bay’s water quality and clarity are improving, and fish populations like walleye are on track toward recovery.

Wetlands and natural shorelines help filter pollutants, prevent coastal erosion, and reduce risk of flooding and wave damage. Protecting and restoring these features can help communities build resilience in the face of fluctuating water levels and increased storm risk.

Spawning reefs and wetlands help native fish species, many of which are valuable to commercial fishers and recreational anglers. Today, Saginaw Bay once again has a world-class walleye fishery that supports fishing tournaments and high-quality recreational fishing. These activities generate tourist dollars for the region — between 2008 and 2010, Saginaw Bay’s recreational fishery was valued at over $33 million per year (citation). Stocking programs are helping other native species like cisco and lake sturgeon come back from the brink.

Who is working on these projects?

Nonprofits and federal, state, and local agencies are working together to restore Saginaw Bay. Many different projects are coordinated and woven together to create a better future for Saginaw Bay. For a look at the ways NOAA approaches restoration projects, visit the NOAA habitat restoration webpage.

What can I do to help Saginaw Bay?

Here are a few things you can do to promote healthy water quality and resilient habitats while living, working, or playing in the Saginaw Bay region:  

  • Use native plants in rain gardens, bioswales, and riparian buffers to capture and filter run-off, minimize erosion, and provide important habitat for birds, insects, and other life.
  • Avoid overfertilizing lawns near rivers, streams, and lakeshores to prevent extra nutrients from washing off into the water.
  • Support policies and community projects that benefit water quality and aquatic habitat protection.
  • When boating, look for certified Clean Marinas, which have pledged to implement eco-friendly practices at their facilities.
  • Join clean-up days to remove trash and debris from local waterways.