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Stateside Podcast: Are Great Lakes beaches better than ocean beaches?

Sunny beach photo
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
Beach at Muskegon State Park

Summertime means beach time, and in Michigan that means the freshwater beaches of the Great Lakes. But which kind of beach is better: lakeside or oceanside?

Dustin Dwyer, Michigan Radio reporter and unabashed Great Lakes enthusiast, went head-to-head with Stateside host April Baer, ocean lover, over beach supremacy. They were joined by Dr. Jo Latimore, an aquatic ecologist at Michigan State University, to keep the peace and offer more insight on Michigan's lakes.

Here are their arguments:


Baer points out that oceans have incredible creatures in them like sea turtles, sharks, whales and dolphins. But Dustin notes that fewer megafauna in the lakes can also mean fewer lethal encounters - who’s been stung or bitten by whitefish and lake trout?

“Obviously we have a big salmon fishery and some of the Great Lakes. There's a lot of really interesting things to see, especially again, if you're at the right place at the right time." (Latimore.)


“The Great Lakes sort of this like miracle that just sort of popped up in this beautiful place that we find ourselves living in. It is not cosmic, is not preordained, is not ancient in the way the oceans are. It is this cute little blessing that we get to experience.” (Dwyer)

Michigan’s lakes are a lot younger than the oceans. The lakes were formed when the last glaciation left huge indentations in the land. Lake Michigan’s beaches are around 20,000 years old – mere babies compared to oceans estimated 4 billion years of sloshing. The youth of the lakes is something that Dwyer loves.


Who wants a mouthful of briny, sooty seawater? The Great Lakes are pristine. But though beachgoers love clear water, Latimore said clarity is the sign of a less-than-healthy ecosystem. Zebra Mussels used to be in Lake Michigan, and they are filter feeders but recently they've been replaced by a larger cousin called the Quagga mussel. The Quagga mussel used to be mainly just on land, but now they’ve multiplied to overwhelming numbers in Lake Michigan. Quagga mussels eat all of the algae, making the water more clear. The lack of algae in Lake Michigan has disrupted the food supply for native species.

Michigan beachgoers can help keep an eye on lake water health this summer. Latimore is also the Director of the Michigan Clean Water Corps. The Michigan Clean Water Corps works with several other organizations across the state to help citizens all across the state keep an eye on the health of our lakes. Often, things that beachgoers do can have a negative effect on lake health. Taking the time to clean off boats before moving them into different bodies of water and avoiding phosphorus fertilizers can help maintain the health of the Great Lakes.


Oceans have sharks. The Great Lakes have biting flies. Which is worse? You be the judge.

Let us know your favorite beach on Twitter. We’re @StatesideRadio.

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Laura is Executive Producer of Stateside. She came to Michigan Public from WDET in Detroit, where she was senior producer on the current events program, Detroit Today.
Lauren Nyong joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2023 and is a Junior studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Calvin University.