Hundreds of plant and animal species call the North American Great Lakes home and humans rely on the lakes as a source of clean water for drinking, fishing and four-season fun. Lots of hard work from many dedicated organizations and individuals in Canada and the United States help keep the Great Lakes ecosystem healthy but the lakes are still threatened by pollution, invasive species and climate change. Check out our video for an introduction to the Great Lakes and find out how they were formed, how they are managed and why they are so important.
Now that you’ve scratched the surface of the Great Lakes, dive deeper with Toronto Zoo’s Great Lakes Program! Get to know some of the amazing aquatic species living right here in the watersheds of the Great Lakes and get involved to help protect these locally endangered fishes and molluscs.
The Great Lakes Program is a FREE, curriculum-based, IN-CLASS and VIRTUAL education program that encourages students, educators, and families to "Keep our Great Lakes Great" while learning about aquatic species at risk (SAR). Presentations are designed to focus on aquatic SAR local to the region of outreach delivery – species include:
- American eel
- Atlantic salmon (Lake Ontario population)
- Channel darter
- Eastern sand darter
- Freshwater mussels
- Lake sturgeon
- Pugnose minnow
- Pugnose shiner
- Redside dace
- Silver shiner
- Spotted gar
Outreach topics also include aquatic invasive species such as:
- Asian carps
- Sea lamprey
- Round goby
- Invasive mussels
Through these examples, in-class and virtual presentations emphasize the importance of protecting aquatic ecosystems for both animal and human use. Outreach presentations are tied to the Life Systems strand of the Ontario Science and Technology Curriculum and are offered at NO CHARGE for Grades K-12. These programs are also available in FRENCH!
For inquiries or to book an in-class or virtual presentation please contact us at
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Over 20,000 educators and students participate in our Great Lakes Program annually. Reaching beyond the classroom, the Great Lakes Program also has 3,000 public participants annually (camps, libraries, festivals, etc.) and the Program contributes to habitat rehabilitation through shoreline clean-ups and tree plantings.
Public events, both at the Toronto Zoo and off-site, reach even more people with the message of water conservation through the Great Lakes Program. Some events include: Party for the Planet, water festivals throughout Ontario and events at partner organizations.
Financial supporters include the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Species at Risk Program, Fisheries and Oceans Canada Habitat Stewardship Program, and the RBC Foundation.
Follow this link to Ontario's Endangered Species Act, 2007
Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007
Follow this link to the Redside Dace Recovery Strategy
Great Lakes Program Lesson Plans:
Great Lakes Program Resources & Activities:
Great Lakes Program Brochure - Pugnose Minnow, Silver Shiner, Hickorynut (ENG)
Great Lakes Program Brochure - Pugnose Minnow, Silver Shiner, Hickorynut (FR)
Great Lakes Program Brochure - Pugnose Minnow, Silver Shiner, Hickorynut (PUNJABI)
Great Lakes Program Brochure - Spotted Gar, RSD, Channel Darter
Great Lakes Program Species at Risk Activity Book
Great Lakes Teaching and Learning Resource - Teacher Guide
Great Lakes Teaching and Learning Resource - Student Book
Redside Dace Activity Book (ENG)
Redside Dace Activity Book (FR)
Redside Dace Brochure (ENG)
Redside Dace Brochure (FR)
Redside Dace Brochure (PUNJABI)
Toronto Zoo’s Aqua-Links Program has participated in the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Recovery Program (LOASRP) for 10 years. In partnership with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Zoo distributes 100 Atlantic salmon eggs to participating schools each year. Approximately 500 eggs are also kept at Toronto Zoo for rearing. In the spring, participating students personally release their salmon fry with Aqua-Links program staff at specific locations in designated tributaries of Lake Ontario to help restore this extirpated species.
In 2019, 26 schools participated in the classroom hatchery program thanks in part to a partnership with the Toronto District School Board. Toronto Zoo program staff facilitated a pre-program workshop to introduce new teachers to the salmon rearing program, demonstrate hatchery set-up and maintenance, and facilitate idea sharing among participants. In total, 3,000 Atlantic salmon fry were released in spring 2019 into Duffin’s Creek, Credit River, and Cobourg Creek through the Aqua-Links program. The students felt a personal connection to the fish and were invested in the entire process.
Contact us at 416-392-6022
Downloadable Lesson Plans:
AquaLinks Lesson 1 - The Great Lakes of the World
AquaLinks Lesson 2 - Ecosystems
AquaLinks Lesson 3 - Ecosystems (continued...)
AquaLinks Lesson 4 - Alien Invaders
AquaLinks Lesson 5 - The Great Lakes of East Africa 1
AquaLinks Lesson 6 - The Great Lakes of East Africa 2
AquaLinks Lesson 7 - The Great Lakes of East Africa 3
Great Lakes Program would like to thank our partners:
Royal Bank of Canada
Species at Risk Stewardship Fund
Habitat Stewardship Program
Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters
Invasive Species Centre