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The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on the Earth's surface, home to a fragile fishery, and delicate shoreline beaches and dunes. They are also central to northern Michigan tourism, economies and our way of life.

Coast guard breaking up thin ice on Great Lakes waterways after mild winter

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J. CARL GANTER / CIRCLE OF BLUE
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The U.S. Coast Guard is breaking up ice that’s thinner than usual on northern Michigan’s lakes and rivers.

Coast Guard Director of Vessel Services Mark Gill says a warm winter with a late blast of arctic air in January and February meant vast -- yet thin -- ice coverage.

"The water was primed to make ice, but you just didn’t have the sustained cold we typically have," he says.

Gill says the thin ice is easy to break, but also more likely to drift out into open water and could damage shorelines and docks.

The Great Lakes peaked at 46% ice coverage this year, which is higher than last year but typical for most winters.

The Coast Guard recommends anyone recreating on the ice use caution and stay away from charted shipping channels. They will continue to break ice ahead of the March 24 opening of the Sault Locks and the start of the new shipping season.