Grassroots support leads to proposal for new marine sanctuaries

Shipwreck areas in Wisconsin and Maryland eyed for protection

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NOAA is seeking comments on its proposal to designate two areas in Wisconsin (left) and Maryland (right) as national marine sanctuaries. (Credit: NOAA).

Staff Report

Two historic shipwreck sites could be designated as National Marine Sanctuaries under a proposal outlined by President Barack Obama at an international ocean conference today.

In a press release, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it’s the first time since 2000 that the agency has identified new sites for that designation. NOAA is taking public comment on the proposal.In Wisconsin, an 875-square mile area of Lake Michigan, with waters extending from Port Washington to Two Rivers received tremendous support from the community, and was identified for possible designation. The nominated area contains a collection of 39 known shipwrecks, 15 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mallows Bay-Potomac River in Maryland is a 14-square mile area of the tidal Potomac River, adjacent to Charles County. Nearly 200 vessels spanning from the Revolutionary War through the present are found in the area, including the remains of the largest “Ghost Fleet” of World War I wooden steamships built for the U.S. Emergency Fleet, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Both sites were nominated as a national marine sanctuary through the sanctuary nomination process with broad community support.

“For the first time in twenty years, communities can bring forth proposals for consideration to be added to our nation’s system of marine sanctuaries,” said Holly Bamford, Ph.D., assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service performing the duties of the assistant secretary of commerce for conservation and management.

“The Mallows Bay and Lake Michigan new nominations demonstrate this new bottom-up approach, which ensures communities lead in identifying and protecting their valuable coastal and marine areas. We look forward to hearing from the public as these two nominations go through the process.”

The public is invited to submit comments until Jan. 15 through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, www.regulations.gov (docket number for Mallows Bay is NOAA-NOS-2015-0111 and docket number for Wisconsin is NOAA-NOS-2015-0112). An official notice will be published in the Federal Register later this week.

Comments may also be mailed if postmarked by Jan. 15.

Comments on Mallows Bay should be sent to:
Paul Orlando, Regional Coordinator
ONMS Northeast and Great Lakes Region
410 Severn Ave, Suite 207-A
Annapolis, MD 21403

Comments on Wisconsin should be sent to:
Ellen Brody, Regional Coordinator
ONMS Great Lakes Region
4840 South State Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48108-9719

NOAA will also be hosting public meetings to answer questions and gather public input at the following locations:

Maryland:
November 4, 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.
La Plata–Charles County Government Building Auditorium
200 Baltimore Street
La Plata, Maryland

November 10, 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.
Annapolis Maritime Museum
723 Second Street
Annapolis, Maryland

Wisconsin:
November 17, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Wisconsin Maritime Museum
75 Maritime Drive
Manitowoc, Wisconsin

November 18, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Wilson House
200 N. Franklin Street
Port Washington, Wisconsin

November 19, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan
Main Building, Wombat Room (Room 2114)
1 University Drive
Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Following this comment period, NOAA will develop a draft environmental impact statement, draft management plan and potential regulations for each site, which will then be available for public review. After reviewing those comments, NOAA will then make a final decision on the proposed action.

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as trustee for a system of 14 marine protected areas, encompassing more than 170,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes waters. Through active research, management, and public engagement, national marine sanctuaries sustain healthy environments that are the foundation for thriving communities and stable economies.

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