06/12/2015 07:04 EDT | Updated 06/12/2016 05:59 EDT

Quebec Premier Couillard hosts conference on Great Lakes in Quebec City

QUEBEC - Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has begun hosting a three-day conference in Quebec City on the future of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River region.

The goal of the conference is for the Canadian Premiers and U.S. Governors of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River territory to work together on combating invasive species threatening the waterways and to strengthen tourism and maritime trade.

Moreover, for the first time Quebec and Ontario have been welcomed as full members in the organization, called the Council of the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said at a news conference Friday "the latest scientific research shows (the Great Lakes) are again under threat. Those new challenges we are confronting require strong relationships."

Also attending the conference is Michigan Governor Rick Snyder who said he was happy to finally welcome the two provinces as full members of the council.

"We have an excellent opportunity to continue to see progress in something that's of critical importance — a world asset to all of us — and that's the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River," he told reporters Friday.

Couillard said Friday the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region is threatened, in particular, by invasive aquatic species, algae, and variable water levels induced by climate change.

He added that the American states that are members of the council are of strategic importance to Quebec and represent a combined GDP of more than $5 trillion.

Wynne said the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River are of "tremendous value to everyone who live, work and play on their shores ... and our constituents expect we do everything in our power to preserve, protect, clean and not to pollute (them) in the first place."

During the three-day conference participants will participate in panel sessions on tourism and trade and listen to speakers discuss ways to create more economic partnerships between the jurisdictions of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River regions.

The seven other states participating in the council aside from Michigan are Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The council was founded in 1983.