Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

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Ongoing Projects  2011  2010  2009   2008   2006   2005   2004   2002  2001

Expeditions and Resource Protection
Each year the sanctuary conducts a variety of research and resource protection projects aimed at better understanding and protecting the unique maritime heritage sites within it. Many larger expeditions are funded through grants; since 2005 the sanctuary and its partners have secured over $390,000 for on-water research. Most projects utilize in-house resources and leverage the expertise of research partners and volunteers. Other resource protection efforts are ongoing, such as thesanctuary’s mooring buoy program. Increasingly, the sanctuary is facilitating research aimed at better understanding the natural aspects of Thunder Bay and northern Lake Huron. Below are some highlighted expeditions and links for more information. 

Ongoing Projects

Shipwreck Mooring Program
To provide better access to Thunder Bay’s historic shipwrecks, the sanctuary maintains seasonal moorings at many popular shipwreck sites. The moorings make the sites easier to locate and provide a safe means of ascent and descent for divers. The moorings also eliminate anchor damage to these unique and irreplaceable historic sites. Moorings are typically available from May 15 through October 1, but weather can occasionally delay seasonal redeployments. Click here for the status of moorings at each shipwreck site.

Reef Restoration Project
Coordinated by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, several artificial reefs have been installed in the Thunder Bay NMS, with the goal of mitigating the loss of reef habitat from previous decades of cement kiln dust disposal. Nearly 1.5 acres of reef habitat have been created along the eastern shores of Alpena, Michigan. A total of 29 individual reefs were placed near two existing natural reefs. Since 2008, the sanctuary has worked with project partners and continues to contribute divers and research vessels to help with equipment installation and monitoring at the sites. The project is made possible by a grant from the Estuary Restoration Act (NOAA) Estuary Habitat Restoration Program in conjunction with the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the generous donation of over 13,000 tons of limestone cobble by Lafarge – Alpena Plant. Learn more here.

Middle Island Sinkhole
In an ongoing effort to support and facilitate multidisciplinary research at the Middle Island submerged sinkhole, the sanctuary’s research team regularly conducts scientific dives for researchers from Grand Valley State University’s Microbial Biology Lab, the University of Michigan’s Geomicrobiology Lab, the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Lab as they try and characterize the special ecosystem present at the Middle Island sinkhole. There are many facets to the research, including the fascinating potential for the sinkhole’s modern bacteria being a billion-year-old cousin to some of Earth’s first oxygen-using organisms. Learn more about that here and visit a page full of useful links here.

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Project Shiphunt: Discovering the M F Merrick and Etruria
In May, five high school students from Saginaw, Michigan embarked on the adventure of a lifetime: hunt for a shipwreck, investigate its identity, and document it in 3D for future generations. Sponsored by Sony and Intel Corp., Project Shiphunt aimed to expose the students to exciting marine technology careers and further their education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-related fields. Assisted by researchers from the sanctuary, NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab, U.S. Coast Survey and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the team mapped nearly 50 square miles of Lake Huron with multibeam sonar, discovered two shipwrecks, and began the process of documenting the sites. Data from the project is helping the sanctuary’s research and resource protection efforts. The entire project was captured in a one-hour documentary, available for online viewing here. Learn more here.

Unlocking 10,000 Years of History: Ground Truthing Potential Archaeological sites along Lake Huron’s Alpena-Amberley Ridge
With grant funding from NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration, the University of Michigan and the sanctuary used multibeam sonar and divers to explore the archaeological potential of the Alpena-Amberley Ridge, a now submerged land bridge that once connected Michigan with Canada.  Roughly 9,900 – 7,500 years ago the ridge formed a dry land corridor extending across Lake Huron from Presque Isle in northeast Michigan to the Point Clark area in southern Ontario. This land bridge would have provided a natural causeway for the migration of caribou and valuable terrain for hunters seeking to exploit the herd. Pilot research by the University of Michigan’s Department of Anthropology has demonstrated that stone features of a kind known among Arctic caribou hunters are preserved on the ridge and can be recognized using acoustic mapping. In 2010, the team mapped 44 square miles of the ridge identifying significant targets and generating enough bathymetry data to produce a dynamic 3D model. In 2011, the team made 61 dives and “ground truthed” many of the sonar targets. Read the progress report here. Learn more about the latest discovery here, and the broader research here.

National Geographic’s Drain the Lakes
Following up several days of filming in 2010, a film team returned to the sanctuary to finish shooting a National Geographic and Discovery Channel Canada special called Drain the Great Lakes. The camera followed along as a joint University of Texas-Austin and Thunder Bay NMS team searched for, and found, the historic shipwreck of the steamer Egyptian(read more about that project here). The film team also captured work being done by University of Michigan archeologists as they searched for prehistoric sites along a submerged land bridge. For program details and web extras visit Discovery Channel Canada.

Thunder Bay Shipwrecks in High Definition
Partnering with the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute (CSI), the sanctuary significantly increased its capacity to film shipwrecks in high definition.  CSI divers brought to the sanctuary two high definition underwater video cameras, including the professional Red One HD video camera. Among other shipwrecks, the team filmed the schooner E B Allen, steamer Monrovia and steamer Grecian.

Multibeam Sonar Mapping
In August 2011, utilizing a multibeam sonar unit surplussed from NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, the sanctuary research team continued searching for the wreck of the steamer Choctaw off Presque Isle, Michigan.  Installed on the sanctuary’s 50-foot research vessel Storm, the multibeam significantly enhances the sanctuary’s ability to search for wrecks and map the lake bottom. The system is also available for use by sanctuary partners.  It was the same system used to find two new shipwrecks during Project Shiphunt.

U. S. Coast Survey AUV Training
In October 2011, the U.S. Coast Survey Rapid Response Team partnered with the sanctuary to conduct side scan sonar surveys in the sanctuary. Using side scan sonar mounted on an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), NOAA personnel gained expertise and proficiency for future emergency responses, while also acquiring sonar data for the sanctuary.  Read more here.

Merrick and Etruria Reconnaissance Dives
Following up on the shipwreck discoveries made during Project Shiphunt, sanctuary volunteers and well known Great Lakes technical divers John Janzen, John Scoles, Sue Smith and Tracy Xelowski shot video and stills of the schooner Merrick and steamer Etruria. The footage is helping the sanctuary assess the sites and plan future documentation. The partnership between the dive team and the sanctuary represents a great model for future monitoring and data collection at deep shipwreck sites. Check out their amazing Merrick and Etruria footage.

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Cutting Edge Technology and the Search for Lake Huron’s Lost Ships
In August 2010, with funding from NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration, a team from the Thunder Bay NMS and the Applied Research Laboratories at the University of Texas at Austin set out to discover new shipwreck sites using cutting edge sonar mounted on a free-swimming autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). Using a REMUS 600 AUV equipped with an innovative, forward-looking sonar, the team discovered the wreck of the steamer Egyptian, and surveyed 104 square miles of lake bottom in and around the sanctuary. Learn more about the project and equipment here.

Mysteries Beneath the Waves: Exploring the Shipwrecks Defiance and Audubon
With grant funding from the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology, the sanctuary set out to gather baseline data on two Great Lakes sailing vessels in northern Lake Huron: Defiance and Audubon. On October 20, 1854, the brig John J. Audubon sailed north to Chicago with a load of iron railroad tracks. At 1:30 a.m., the southbound schooner Defiance emerged from the darkness and fog, striking the Audubon’s mid-section.  Both vessels sank within a few miles of each other. In an ongoing effort to assess the recreational, archeological and historical potential of shipwreck sites outside the sanctuary’s boundaries, the team also investigated the steamers Norman and Messenger. The projected resulted in photomosaics of the four wrecks, an archeological site plan of the Defiance, and significant video and still imagery. See some of the products and learn more here.

Nautical Archaeology Society Course for the National Association of Black Scuba Divers
In August the National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS) and NOAA collaborated to conduct NAS I and NAS II training for NABS members at the Thunder Bay NMS. The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Heritage Program has partnered with the world's largest maritime archaeological training organization, the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS), to offer training in the principles and practices of maritime archaeology to professionals and the public. Learn more here.

NOAA’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Hosts Three Live Webcasts from the Shipwreck Montana.
In July, with funding from NOAA’s Preserve America Initiative, the sanctuary and its partners conducted a series of “Live Dive” webcasts from the shipwreck Montana in the Thunder Bay NMS.  Viewers in several locations including the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, Michigan; Ann Arbor (Michigan) Hands-on Museum, Silver Spring (Maryland) and Mokupapapa (Hawaii) Discovery Center were able to interact live with the sanctuary dive team and submit email questions at Immersion Learning. During the broadcast audiences learned how marine archaeologists document shipwrecks and work to preserve them for future generations. Learn more here and watch the archived broadcasts here.

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Documenting the “Fast Steel Flyer” Grecian
Launched in 1891, the steel-hulled Grecian symbolizes an era of unprecedented industrial growth in America.  She also reflects a period of dramatic change in shipbuilding technology. Just five years after the first steel vessel was launched on the Great Lakes, construction began on the powerful 296-foot Grecian and five sister ships. Newspapers heralded these new freighters as “fast steel flyers” that used a combination of sail and steam power.  A marvel of efficiency for her time, the Grecian made an impressive 35 trips and carried 93,000 tons of iron ore in 1896, making her one of the most cost effective vessels of her era while serving J. P. Morgan’s U.S. Steel Corporation.  After 15 years of successful service, the Grecian’s career came to an end.  In June 1906, the Grecian struck a reef in northern Lake Huron, tearing a hole in her bottom. While being towed to Detroit for repair, the damaged vessel flooded and sank near Thunder Bay. Sitting upright in 90 feet of water within the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Grecian’s intact bow and stern reveal the ship’s sleek design, and her collapsed mid-section exposes details of early steel ship construction. In 2009 a team of archaeologists from Thunder Bay NMS and the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary documented the shipwreck and produced a detailed archaeological site plan. Click to see the Grecian Shipwreck Page or to download the shipwreck site plan.

U. S. Naval Sea Cadet Training
In 2009 and 2010 the sanctuary conducted Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) training courses for the US Naval Sea Cadets as part of the long-term partnership between the sanctuary, the Noble Odyssey Foundation, and the Sea Cadets. Cadets ranging in age from 12-17 received classroom instruction in archeological methods and then applied these techniques in the field—designing and conducting their own shipwreck mapping project. The NAS training is part of the Sea Cadets’ broader experience on Lake Huron where they also study ecology and invasive species. Read more about the Sea Cadets and their training in Thunder Bay here.

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Mystery Beneath the Waves: The Search For Historic Shipwrecks in Northern Lake Huron
With grant funding from NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration, the sanctuary partnered with the University of Rhode Island and University of Michigan to search for shipwrecks in and around Thunder Bay. Using a Klein 3000 side scan sonar during 24-hour operations off the research vessel Laurentian, the team surveyed over 100 square miles off Presque Isle, Michigan and discovered the wreck of the steamer Messenger. The team also conducted a live broadcast from the deck of the Laurentian, talking about an earlier project to document the schooner Kyle Spangler, work at a submerged sinkhole, and the use of autonomous underwater vehicles in the sanctuary. View the broadcast here.

Documenting the Schooner Kyle Spangler
In September 2008, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, in cooperation with Michigan divers Stan Stock and Tracy Xelowski, documented the wreck of the two-masted schooner Kyle Spangler, built in 1856. The 130-foot long wooden vessel was discovered in 2003 by Stock. Carrying 15,000 bushels of corn, the Spangler collided in dark with the schooner Racine off Presque Isle on November 7, 1860.  The largely intact wreck is sitting upright in 185 feet of water. After the team produced an archeological site plan, photomosaic and complete video and still imagery, the coordinates for the site were made public. The project is an excellent example of how the sanctuary and the public are working together to document, protect and promote the region’s world class shipwrecks and maritime heritage.

Deep Sinkhole Expedition
With funding from NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration, a team lead by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab set out to will explore shallow and deep coastal sinkholes in order to understand the chemical and physical properties that contribute to the unique ecology found in these systems. The multi-investigator team gathered data on the hydrology (the flow rates and dispersion of groundwater), biology, and chemistry from submerged groundwater vents located within the boundaries of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, in northwestern Lake Huron. Learn more here.

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LIDAR and High Resolution Photogrammetry Pilot Project
Leveraging assets from NOAA’s Remote Sensing Division, this project sought to test systems useful for updating existing shoreline information in the Thunder Bay area, and to locate, explore and document maritime heritage material in shallow and shoreline environments.  With resolution to about one meter, the team used topographic LIDAR to map the shoreline in and around Thunder Bay, and also produced high resolution photogrammetry to about the 18 foot depth contour. Although brief, the project was successful in that the locations of several shallow-water shipwreck sites were confirmed via photogrammetry. Information such as this helps bridge the gap between marine and territorial environments, and is useful for shoreline communities as they seek better data to assist with planning. The data also establishes a baseline for comparing historical and archival information on the dynamic maritime landscape of the City of Alpena over time, which includes changes to the waterfront and fluctuations in commercial structures.

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Exploring Thunder Bay Shipwrecks
In August 2005, with funding from NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and East Carolina University’s Diving and Water Safety Program conducted an expedition aimed at documenting deepwater shipwrecks within the sanctuary. The two week project focused primarily on two sites: an unidentified two-masted schooner located by Dr. Robert Ballard’s Institute for Exploration in 2001 (tentatively identified as the Corsican) and the wooden passenger steamer Pewabic, which sank in 1865. Both wrecks rest in about 165 feet of water.  Using mixed gas diving techniques the team created high resolution photomosaics of both sites, which will serve as baseline data for future documentation and monitoring. Learn more here.  A Science Channel film crew joined the expedition while filming Great Lakes Shipwrecks, which still airs regularly on the Science Channel.

America’s Underwater Treasures and Jean-Michel Cousteau
As part of his series profiling our nation’s national marine sanctuaries, Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Ocean Futures Society team filmed several shipwrecks in Thunder Bay, while diving of the U. S. Naval Sea Cadet training ship Pride of Michigan. Check your local PBS station for repeat airings. View a film trailer, a sanctuary guide, and find out more about the expedition here.

North Point’s Maritime Heritage
In 2005 University of Rhode Island (URI) completed its first season of fieldwork of an anticipated multi-year research project at the sanctuary.  Combining Geographic Information Systems (GIS) development, terrestrial, marine, and remote sensing survey operations, site stability studies, and shipwreck predictive modeling, a seven person crew under the direction of I. Roderick Mather, professor of historical archaeology at URI, spent ten days at TBNMS implementing their research design and gathering baseline data for future research. The project included a Phase I remote sensing survey of Thunder Bay between North Point Reef and Thunder Bay Island, an area where historic evidence suggests high vessel concentrations within the Sanctuary. Nearly 200 targets were detected by sonar in a 3 square mile area. Several of the targets were visually inspected by divers and proved to be large sections of wooden wreckage.

ECU work on north point reef
ECU returned to Thunder Bay in June 2005 with seven graduate students and focused on an area of North Point Reef where nearly 70 vessels stranded since the middle of the 19thcentury. Although the majority of vessels were ultimately recovered, about a dozen remain on the reef. The students focused on creating a site plan for wreckage thought to belong to the propeller Galena, stranded on the reef in 1872. Galena was lost not far from the propellerCongress and the steam barge B.W. Blanchard, as well as the schooners John T. Johnson, Empire State and E.B. Palmer. Wreckage from some or all of these vessels was located during a visual survey in 2004 and re-examined during the ECU field school. In total, 41 sites consisting of large sections or clusters of wreckage, anchors, rudders, windlasses and even a lifeboat davit were recorded with basic measurements, scaled drawings and photographs.

History Channel Deep Sea Detectives
On the 27 November 1875, the schooner Cornelia B. Windiate disappeared and was presumed to have sunk in a storm on Lake Michigan. Over 100 years later, she was discovered at the bottom of Lake Huron in pristine condition, with no evidence as to what may have caused her loss with all hands. Working with sanctuary archeologists and the University of Michigan’s Marine Hydrodynamic Lab, world-renowned wreck divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler investigated the possible causes and filmed a Deep Sea Detectives episode for the History Channel. You can purchase the video here.

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East Carolina University Field School
To further develop their skills in the archaeological recording of shipwrecks, six students from East Carolina University’s Program in Maritime Studies spent part of the summer documenting the steamer Monohansett. Built in 1872, the wooden bulk freighter caught fire and burned just off Thunder Bay Island in 1907. Today, the wreck rests in just 18 feet of very clear water, making it a perfect training site. Read more about project here, and download the final report here. The site is also great for snorkeling or kayaking, and non divers can explore the shipwreck via glass bottom boat.

Arrival of the RV Huron Explorer
In 2004, in cooperation with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab, the sanctuary took possession of its first true research vessel, the 41-foot RV Huron Explorer. The vessel made possible for the sanctuary a new range of research activities including technical diving and side scan sonar surveys.  Notably, the “green” vessel is completely petroleum free and, along with other vessels in NOAA’s Great Lakes fleet, won several awards for that innovation.

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Institute for Exploration and Little Hercules
Following the 2001 sonar survey, Robert Ballard and his Institute for Exploration team returned to Thunder Bay to film several shipwrecks in high definition video, using the ROV Little Hercules and massive lighting sled Argus. Working primarily off the RV Connecticut, the team filmed shipwrecks such as the Montana, E B Allen, Isaac Scott, Defiance and others. Most interesting was the filming of “Target 7”, a shipwreck discovered the year before and now tentatively identified as the schooner Corsican. Much of the HD video footage can be seen the sanctuary’s documentary Tragedies in the Mist, which shows regularly at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, MI. View a trailer here.

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Institute for Exploration Sonar Survey
Using their towed side scan sonar ECHO, a team from Robert Ballard’s Institute for Exploration mapped approximately 342 square-miles of the sanctuary while working of the Environmental Protection Agency’s RV Lake Guardian. The sanctuary was officially designated just the year before (2000), making this sonar survey an important first step in characterizing and better understanding the maritime heritage resources within it. Read more about the project here, and a summary from the project’s chief scientist here

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