Anatomy of a Lake

Our lakes are not only made up of water but also of an important area called the shoreland that surrounds them. What we do to our shoreland has a drastic impact on our lakes. You can learn a little bit more about the important parts of a lake below.

The Shoreland

Shorelands are areas where our water meets our land. They are comprised of the shallow water that approaches the shore as well as the upland area immediately meeting the lake, a band of up to 100 feet total! Scientists call meeting places like the shoreland an “ecotone”, which are areas of transition that are typically extremely biodiverse. This is certainly true of our shorelands, which support up to 90% of aquatic species and 70% of land-based wildlife too, like birds, minks, and moose! Shorelands are indeed the most biodiverse parts of a lake ecosystem. 

When kept natural, shorelands offer myriad benefits beyond important habitats for aquatic and land-based wildlife. Their vegetation acts as a filter, guarding the lake against runoff and harmful substances like contaminants. They also help prevent erosion from wind and wave action, help filter water, and can even deter nuisance wildlife like geese from accessing landowners’ property.


Image courtesy of Fisheries & Oceans and Cottage Life.

Shorelands have three key zones, the littoral zone, riparian zone, and the upland zone. Each of these zones has its own unique characteristics and functions.

You can also learn more about shoreland science in our Science Hub by visiting the link below.


A lake is a body of water surrounded by land that can range from small (11 acres) to large in size. The water inside a lake is slow-moving or even standing as opposed to things like tributaries and rivers that observably flow. The climate, substrate of the lake basin and the lake's placement in the watershed, whether at the height or as a receiving body, will determine the natural nutrient levels, chemistry, and associated fish and wildlife of that lake. Lakes are sensitive habitats; development and excessive recreational activities can easily change these aspects.  

A substantial amount of our water requirements for domestic (ie. households), agricultural, and industrial purposes come from our lakes. They are also home to myriad biodiversity of aquatic life, a source of food for a significant portion of Canada’s population and home to an important pillar of economic life in Canada: fisheries. Here in cottage country, specifically, lakes are also a culturally significant and treasured part of our pastimes, whether it be swimming, canoeing, or other recreational activities.


Image source unknown.

Just like shorelands, lakes also have various zones with their own unique characteristics and functions. In addition to there being different zones across the surface of the lake, different zones also exist by depth.

Our lakes and shorelands do so much for us, but they are currently under threat due to things like development, pollutant runoff, invasive species, and more. This is why the Blue Lakes Program was developed: to help communities take an active role in ensuring that their lakes are and remain healthy and intact!

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