Coastal and nearshore regions of most large lakes have not been included in monitoring efforts in a regular, consistent and comprehensive fashion. To address this need, we have been developing a survey approach using towed in situ sensors to provide spatially-extensive mapping of nearshore conditions. Within the last decade, we have applied a strategy of towing along the coastline in all five US/Canadian Laurentian Great Lakes. We have developed confidence in the strategy's ability to assess the entire nearshore region comprehensively and efficiently. This article presents an overview of steps of the development, a selection of representative results, and our continuing evaluation of the approach. Findings to date demonstrate an ability to establish linkages between conditions in the nearshore and adjacent watersheds at a variety of spatial scales, including to the US basin-wide level. Results here highlight two plankton sensors (fluorometer for phytoplankton and [laser] optical plankton counter ([L]OPC)) for zooplankton. Results suggested a strong coherence between plankton parameters and a non-linear relationship of plankton metrics to human development of the landscape across the Great Lakes basin.

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