NOAA Expands Thunder Bay Sanctuary Ten-Fold

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary has been expanded to nearly ten times its former size according to a final rule published Friday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration increased the sanctuary’s size from 448 square miles to 4,300 square miles, according to the action.
     The expansion in northwestern Lake Huron will add 47 historic shipwrecks to the 45 known wrecks in the area originally designated as a national marine sanctuary in 2000. The area encompasses treacherous waters known as “Shipwreck Alley,” that are plagued by “unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales, and rocky shoals,” the agency said. Almost 200 ships have gone down in the area over the past 150 years.
     The action also provides “comprehensive, long-term” protection for historic shipwrecks and maritime heritage resources that have not yet been discovered. The wrecks are well preserved by Lake Huron’s frigid fresh water, but face threats from looting, anchoring, storms and invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels.
     Along with the shipwrecks, the sanctuary protects cultural and natural features such as lighthouses, fishing camps and docks, as well as geological and archaeological sites. Preserving the wrecks and associated maritime sites provides historical, archaeological and recreational/tourism benefits, the agency said.
     The sanctuary designation limits the use of anchors and grappling hooks in areas marked with mooring buoys, and prohibits the theft of artifacts, even if they are at a distance from a wreck.
     “It is the range of vessel types located in the sanctuary that makes the collection nationally significant. From an 1844 sidewheel steamer to a modern 500-foot-long German freighter, the shipwrecks of Thunder Bay represent a microcosm of maritime commerce and travel on the Great Lakes,” the agency noted.
     The final rule includes some changes from last year’s proposal, mainly to address concerns by the shipping industry concerning ballast operations, and concerns from Indian tribes regarding traditional fishing rights.
     The action is to take effect after the close of a forty-five day review period of continuous session of Congress, after the publication date of Sept. 5, 2014.

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