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About the Sanctuary/Preserve

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve (NMS/UP) encompasses 448 square miles of northwest Lake Huron, off the northeast coast of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. The landward boundary of the sanctuary/preserve is marked by the northern and southern limits of Alpena County, and the sanctuary/preserve extends east from the lakeshore to longitude 83 degrees west. The largest city in the vicinity is Alpena.

Evening in Presque Isle Harbor
A peaceful summer evening in Presque Isle Harbor, located about 20 miles north of Alpena. The harbor has been used by sailors for many years as a refuge from storms on Lake Huron.

The Thunder Bay NMS/UP will protect a nationally significant collection of over 100 shipwrecks, spanning over a century of Great Lakes shipping history. Thunder Bay NMS/UP represents many "firsts" for the National Marine Sanctuary Program:

  • First Great Lakes sanctuary.
  • First sanctuary to focus solely on a large collection of underwater cultural resources.
  • First sanctuary located entirely in state waters.

For more information, see Shipwrecks.

NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program focuses on protecting our nation's marine resources - both natural and cultural. Before NOAA can designate a National Marine Sanctuary, the proposed sanctuary must be shown to contain resources of "special national significance" because of their conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, research, educational, or aesthetic qualities. The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve contains a collection of shipwrecks that are believed to be of special national significance.

The addition of Thunder Bay to the NMS family enhances NOAA's national program for the management of underwater cultural resources in a number of ways. Lake Huron's cold, fresh waters have created a remarkable state of shipwreck preservation that is unmatched by the other sanctuaries' saltwater environments. Thunder Bay's collection of shipwrecks represents the diversity of vessels that navigated the Great Lakes in the 19th and 20th centuries. These sunken ships reflect transitions in vessel architecture and construction while conveying stories of Great Lakes transportation and commerce. A study completed in 1996 indicates that this collection qualifies for National Historic Landmark status, making Thunder Bay an appropriate candidate for National Marine Sanctuary designation.

For more information, see History of the Sanctuary and Shipwrecks.

NOAA and the State of Michigan have established a partnership to cooperatively manage the sanctuary's underwater cultural resources. A 15-member Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC) representing the local communities has provided recommendations to NOAA and the State of Michigan concerning sanctuary development. The SAC will continue to advise the sanctuary/preserve manager about management issues.

1970s - Alpena residents initiated the idea of an "underwater park" in Thunder Bay.

1980s - The Thunder Bay Underwater Preserve was created by the State of Michigan and Thunder Bay became a candidate for NMS designation.

1990s - NOAA developed and published the draft and final Environmental Impact Statement and Management Plan with State, SAC, and citizen input.

October 7, 2000 - Sanctuary/preserve designation was finalized following a 45-day Congressional and gubernatorial review period.

For more information, see Designation Process or a Detailed Timeline.

Sanctuary/preserve activities will focus on resource protection, education, and research. Priority activities include placing mooring buoys at identified shipwrecks, initiating an inventory and documentation of shipwrecks, and developing a maritime heritage education program.

For more information, see Sanctuary Activities.

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