MT. PLEASANT (WWJ) — Great Lakes research, restoration, conservation and the lakes’ economic impact highlighted discussions today at a symposium sponsored by Central Michigan University’s Institute for Great Lakes Research.

The symposium featured special guest Cameron Davis, senior adviser to the administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Davis oversees the $1.6 billion Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and was lead negotiator on the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

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Davis said the research CMU is doing on the lakes’ coastal wetlands is a critical initiative in addressing a variety of Great Lakes issues.

“The work being done by CMU’s Institute for Great Lakes Research helps us understand the threats facing this ecosystem so we can address and eliminate the problems,” Davis said. “CMU’s work is critical to this effort.”

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CMU oversees a $10 million EPA grant to conduct Great Lakes wetlands restoration and preservation research working in cooperation with nine other universities and three governmental agencies. The research will be used to help the EPA allocate resources to areas of the Great Lakes that need help.

“The work CMU is doing is very important in protecting these gems — the Great Lakes,” Davis said.

Coastal wetlands serve as nature’s filter in maintaining water quality in the Great Lakes, which supports a $7.5 billion fishery and robust tourism industry. To date, 60 percent of the Great Lakes coastal wetlands have been mapped and the remaining 40 percent will be mapped by 2015.

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“By boosting the awareness of our impact and long-term effect on these watersheds, people are becoming more educated on how important these bodies of water are to our world,” Don Uzarski, director of CMU’s Institute for Great Lakes Research, said. “We’ve already lost 50 percent of the coastal wetlands surrounding the Great Lakes. We can’t afford to lose more.”