State of the Beach/State Reports/MN/Beach Ecology

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Minnesota Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access66
Water Quality66
Beach Erosion3-
Erosion Response-4
Beach Fill4-
Shoreline Structures3 4
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas35
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


To the casual observer, beaches may simply appear as barren stretches of sand - beautiful, but largely devoid of life or ecological processes. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Sandy beaches not only provide habitat for numerous species of plants and animals, they also serve as breeding grounds for many species that are not residential to the beach. Additionally, beaches function as areas of high primary production. Seaweeds and other kinds of algae flourish in shallow, coastal waters, and beaches serve as repositories for these important inputs to the food chain. In this way, beaches support a rich web of life including worms, bivalves, and crustaceans. This community of species attracts predators such as seabirds, which depend on sandy beaches for their foraging activities. In short, sandy beaches are diverse and productive systems that serve as a critical link between marine and terrestrial environments.

Erosion of the beach, whether it is “natural” erosion or erosion exacerbated by interruptions to historical sand supply, can negatively impact beach ecology by removing habitat. Other threats to ecological systems at the beach include beach grooming and other beach maintenance activities. Even our attempts at beach restoration may disrupt the ecological health of the beach. Imported sand may smother natural habitat. The grain size and color of imported sand may influence the reproductive habits of species that utilize sandy beaches for these functions.

In the interest of promoting better monitoring of sandy beach systems, the Surfrider Foundation would like to see the implementation of a standardized methodology for assessing ecological health. We believe that in combination, the identified metrics such as those described below can function to provide a revealing picture of the status of beach systems. We believe that a standardized and systematic procedure for assessing ecological health is essential to meeting the goals of ecosystem-based management. And, we believe that the adoption of such a procedure will function to better inform decision makers, and help bridge the gap that continues to exist between science and policy. The Surfrider Foundation proposes that four different metrics be used to complete ecological health assessments of sandy beaches. These metrics include

  1. quality of habitat,
  2. status of ‘indicator’ species,
  3. maintenance of species richness, and
  4. management practices.

It is envisioned that beach systems would receive a grade (i.e., A through F), which describes the beach’s performance against each of these metrics. In instances where information is unavailable, beaches would be assigned an incomplete for that metric. Based on the beach’s overall performance against the four metrics, an “ecological health” score would be identified.


The brochure Natural Shorelines recognizes that: "A natural shoreline is more than an aesthetic buffer for the water; it is a complex ecosystem that provides habitat for fish and wildlife and protects water quality for the entire lake." The brochure goes on to state:

"Not surprisingly, biologists have found that removing the native trees and plants around lakes, wetlands, and streams changes both fish and wildlife species found along our shores. As native trees and shrubs decline, diverse species like warblers, loons, and hummingbirds are replaced by common birds like house sparrows, blue jays, and grackles. Loons, ducks, and other birds will not likely nest on a groomed and manicured shore or beach. Even small areas of native grass can attract nesting ducks and other wildlife. Green frogs are also disappearing with development. Removal of aquatic plants alters the spawning habitat, food supply, and protective cover that fish need. As we “clean up” our shores, we are removing inlake vegetation, logs, and other parts of the lake’s ecosystem. We are removing the place where turtles and ducks sun and the habitat in which fish and frogs lay eggs. We are removing the turtles, ducks, fish, and frogs."


Ecological Mapping

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service have developed an Ecological Classification System (ECS) for ecological mapping and landscape classification in Minnesota following the National Hierarchical Framework of Ecological Units (ECOMAP 1993). Ecological land classifications are used to identify, describe, and map progressively smaller areas of land with increasingly uniform ecological features. The system uses associations of biotic and environmental factors, including climate, geology, topography, soils, hydrology, and vegetation. ECS mapping enables resource managers to consider ecological patterns for areas as large as North America or as small as a single timber stand and identify areas with similar management opportunities or constraints relative to that scale. There are eight levels of ECS units in the United States. Map units for six of these levels occur in Minnesota: Provinces, Sections, Subsections, Land Type Associations, Land Types, and Land Type Phases.

Provinces are units of land defined using major climate zones, native vegetation, and biomes such as prairies, deciduous forests, or boreal forests. There are 4 Provinces in Minnesota. Minnesota's Lake Superior shoreline is in the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province.

Sections are units within Provinces that are defined by origin of glacial deposits, regional elevation, distribution of plants, and regional climate. Minnesota has 10 sections. Minnesota's Lake Superior shoreline is in the Northern Superior Uplands Section.

Subsections are units within Sections that are defined using glacial deposition processes, surface bedrock formations, local climate, topographic relief, and the distribution of plants, especially trees. Minnesota has 26 subsections. Minnesota's Lake Superior shoreline is in the North Shore Highlands subsection.

Land Type Associations are units within Subsections that are defined using glacial landforms, bedrock types, topographic roughness, lake and stream distributions, wetland patterns, depth to ground water table, soil parent material, and pre-European settlement vegetation. Minnesota has 291 land type associations.

Land Types are units within Land Type Associations that are defined using pre-European settlement vegetation, historic disturbance regime, associations of native plant communities (the System level of Native Plant Community Classification), wetland distribution, and soil types.


You can learn what common animals have been documented by the Minnesota County Biological Survey (MCBS). You can see where a particular species has been found or get a list of the species recorded from a particular area. More info on animals.

The Ecosystem Education Program is a statewide effort to build greater understanding and implementation of an ecosystem-based approach for managing the state's natural resources sustainably. Established in 1995, the program works with natural resource professionals from many agencies, local governments, educators, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and citizens to achieve these goals. Products and activities show how connections among ecological, economic, and social values form a basis for building sustainable communities.

Other Coastal Ecosystems

Aquatic Plant Management Program

The Canadian Waterweed is one of many aquatic plants native to Minnesota

Aquatic plants growing in public waters are owned by the state and can interfere with riparian property owners' access to lakes. The Aquatic Plant Management Program protects native vegetation and the aquatic environment from unnecessary harm while allowing lakeshore homeowners to control some aquatic vegetation for water access. The use of herbicides in lakes to control submerged vegetation, or the destruction of emergent vegetation by any means, require DNR permits.

In 1991, reacting to public concern about Minnesota’s disappearing wetlands, the Minnesota Legislature approved and Governor Arne Carlson signed the Wetland Conservation Act, one of the most sweeping wetlands protection laws in the country. The purpose of the Wetland Conservation Act is to maintain and protect Minnesota’s wetlands and the benefits they provide.

The Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project (GLEAM) evaluates multiple stressors affecting the Great Lakes ecosystem. GLEAM merges spatial data layers representing all major categories of stressors to the Great Lakes, ranging from climate change and land-based pollution to invasive species, into a single map of cumulative stress. The synthesis of this information into a single map enhances our ability to manage and restore the Great Lakes ecosystem. The final map can be used to assess stressor impacts at locations with significant human benefits and to evaluate conservation and restoration opportunities.

NOAA's Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps provide a concise summary of coastal resources that are at risk if an oil spill occurs nearby. Examples of at-risk resources include biological resources (such as birds and shellfish beds), sensitive shorelines (such as marshes and tidal flats), and human-use resources (such as public beaches and parks).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Services Center, in partnership with NatureServe and others are developing the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS), a standard ecological classification system that is universally applicable for coastal and marine systems and complementary to existing wetland and upland systems.

Contact Info

Division of Ecological and Water Resources

Mike Peloquin
Assistant Regional Manager
Lake Superior Coastal Program
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

500 Lafayette Road - Box 25
St. Paul, MN 55155-4032
phone: 651-259-5100
fax: 651-296-1811

Minnesota County Biological Survey

Department of Natural Resources
Carmen Converse, Supervisor
500 Lafayette Rd Box 25
St Paul, MN 55155-4025
tel. (651) 259-5083

Aquatic Plant Management Program

Steve Enger, Coordinator
500 Lafayette Road Box 25
St Paul, MN 55155-4025
tel. (651) 259-5092

Wetland Program Contact

Doug Norris, Wetlands Program Coordinator
500 Lafayette Rd Box 25
St Paul, MN 55155-4025
tel. (651) 259-5125

Ecosystem Education Program

Jan Shaw Wolff, Coordinator
500 Lafayette Road, Box 25
St. Paul, MN 55155-4025
tel. (651) 259-5153
fax (651) 296-1811

State of the Beach Report: Minnesota
Minnesota Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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