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Buffalo Reef Partnership, Featured in New Documentary, Takes Actions to Restore Buffalo Reef

Heavy Machinery Moving Earth

Buffalo Reef is a natural cobble reef in Lake Superior, located just off the eastern edge of the Keweenaw Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The reef has historically maintained invaluable spawning habitat for fish species such as lake trout and lake whitefish.

One part of restoring reef habitat involves dredging stamp sands near the shoreline in Keweenaw County, Michigan.

These remarkable habitat features are threatened by migrating stamp sands-a waste product from copper ore milling operations in Gay, Michigan. Since milling operations ended in 1932, lake currents and winds have moved the stamp sands south about 5 miles to Buffalo Reef and Grand Traverse Harbor.

Buffalo Reef has always been considered a culturally significant harvesting ground for local tribal communities. The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community reached out to Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, who, with videographer Finn Ryan, produced a documentary on Buffalo Reef.

Saving Buffalo Reef documentary

Monitoring of fish populations at Buffalo Reef shows that as more stamp sands cover the reef, fewer fish are able to survive.

Today, tribal, state, federal and academic partnerships are combining efforts to mitigate damages and ultimately restore Buffalo Reef as the ecological resource that has sustained both tribal and non-tribal communities for generations. Efforts by this partnership, such as dredging Grand Traverse Harbor, some beach areas and an offshore “trough,” have been partially funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Over the past year, this partnership has accomplished the following:

  • Selected options for long-term protection of the reef
  • Removed a thirty-foot tall cliff of stamp sand that was eroding approximately 150 thousand tons per year stamp sand directly into Lake Superior
  • Dredged Grand Traverse Harbor and the adjacent beach to protect juvenile whitefish habitat
  • Began telemetry and laboratory studies on lake trout and whitefish to guide management plan development
  • Removed approximately 112 thousand cubic yards stamp sand from a bedrock depression (trough) in Lake Superior above the reef