Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. It is surrounded on the north, west, and southwest by the Canadian province of Ontario, and on the south and east by the U.S. state of New York, whose water boundaries meet in the middle of the lake.
The Canadian cities of Toronto, Kingston, Mississauga, and Hamilton are located on the lake's northern and western shorelines, while the American city of Rochester is located on the south shore. In the Huron language, the name Ontarí'iocode: wya is deprecated means "great lake". Its primary inlet is the Niagara River from Lake Erie. The last in the Great Lakes chain, Lake Ontario serves as the outlet to the Atlantic Ocean via the Saint Lawrence River, comprising the eastern end of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. The Moses-Saunders Power Dam regulates the water level of the lake.
Lake Ontario is the only Great Lake not to border the state of Michigan.
The Great Lakes watershed is a region of high biodiversity, and Lake Ontario is important for its diversity of birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and plants. Many of these special species are associated with shorelines, particularly sand dunes, lagoons, and wetlands. The importance of wetlands to the lake has been appreciated, and many of the larger wetlands have protected status. These wetlands are changing, partly because the natural water level fluctuations have been reduced. Many wetland plants are dependent upon low water levels to reproduce. When water levels are stabilized, the area and diversity of the marsh is reduced. This is particularly true of meadow marsh (also known as wet meadow wetlands); for example, in Eel Bay near Alexandria Bay, regulation of lake levels has resulted in large losses of wet meadow. Often this is accompanied by the invasion of cattails, which displace many of the native plant species and reduce plant diversity. Eutrophication may accelerate this process by providing nitrogen and phosphorus for the more rapid growth of competitively dominant plants. Similar effects are occurring on the north shore, in wetlands such as Presqu'ile, which have interdunal wetlands called pannes, with high plant diversity and many unusual plant species.
Most of the forests around the lake are deciduous forests dominated by trees including maple, oak, beech, ash and basswood. These are classified as part of the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone by Environment Canada, or as the Eastern Great Lakes and Hudson Lowlands by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, or as the Great Lakes Ecoregion by The Nature Conservancy. Deforestation in the vicinity of the lake has had many negative impacts, including loss of forest birds, extinction of native salmon, and increased amounts of sediment flowing into the lake. In some areas, more than 90 percent of the forest cover has been removed and replaced by agriculture. Certain tree species, such as hemlock, have also been particularly depleted by past logging activity. Guidelines for restoration stress the importance of maintaining and restoring forest cover, particularly along streams and wetlands.
By the 1960s and 1970s, the increased pollution caused frequent algal blooms to occur in the summer. These blooms killed large numbers of fish, and left decomposing piles of filamentous algae and dead fish along the shores.