Agency Plans to Protect More Wrecked Ships

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposed expanding the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron to 4,300 square miles from 448 square miles.
     The sanctuary protects 45 shipwrecks in "Shipwreck Alley," a treacherous stretch of water plagued by "unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales, and rocky shoals," the proposal says.
     The expansion would provide protections for an additional 47 known wrecks of national significance. Nearly 200 vessels have been lost around Thunder Bay, the agency said. The wrecks range from an 1844 sidewheel steamer to a modern 500-foot German freighter, and the state of preservation and public accessibility "represent a microcosm of maritime commerce and travel on the Great Lakes," according to the action.
     The proposed regulation would provide protection for historic shipwrecks and other maritime heritage resources that have not yet been discovered. Otherwise, these resources and wrecks are subject to looting and damage from anchoring, as well as damage from invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, the agency said.
     These maritime heritage resources have historical, archeological, recreational and educational value, according to the action.
     Some state and federal laws, such as the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, only apply to abandoned property. Sanctuary regulations apply to all historic shipwrecks, mandate mooring buoys to mark the sites, prohibit the use of grappling hooks and other anchors and "hand-taking" at the site.
     NOAA's "designation of the sanctuary in 2000 has had a tremendously positive socioeconomic impact on community development and maritime heritage tourism in Northeast Michigan," the action noted. "Expansion of the sanctuary boundaries could bring similar positive socioeconomic impacts to a larger geographic area in Michigan."
     The comments are due by Aug. 13 and has scheduled three public hearings in July.