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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a National Marine Sanctuary?
Why is Thunder Bay going to be designated a National Marine Sanctuary?
How was Thunder Bay nominated to be a sanctuary?
How will local interests be represented in sanctuary/preserve management?
What is the Management Plan?
What opportunities will the sanctuary/preserve provide for visitors?
Will the sanctuary/preserve have positive economic impacts?
Will access to the sanctuary/preserve be prohibited or restricted?

What is a National Marine Sanctuary?
National Marine Sanctuaries are protected areas of the oceans or Great Lakes that contain nationally significant natural and/or cultural resources. There are currently 12 National Marine Sanctuaries around the country, established under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act and managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other partners, including state governments.

The National Marine Sanctuary Program website provides a wealth of information about the sanctuaries -- how they were established, how they're managed, their scientific and educational programs, and the many exciting events that occur in them throughout the year. The website also includes a description and photo gallery for each sanctuary. Most of the sanctuaries have their own websites with more detailed information about their resource protection, education, and research activities. To visit another sanctuary, click on its name in the list that follows.

Channel Islands, CA Gulf of the Farallones, CA
Cordell Bank, CA Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale, HI
Fagatele Bay, American Samoa Monitor, NC
Florida Keys, FL Monterey Bay, CA
Flower Garden Banks, TX Olympic Coast, WA
Gray's Reef, GA Stellwagen Bank, MA

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Why was Thunder Bay designated a National Marine Sanctuary?
Thunder Bay and the surrounding waters on Lake Huron contain a nationally significant collection of over 100 shipwrecks. This collection spans two centuries of Great Lakes shipping history, reflecting transitions in ship architecture and construction, from wooden schooners to steel-hulled steamers. A recent study indicates that the collection of shipwrecks in and around Thunder Bay is qualified for National Historic Landmark status.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve is the first freshwater and Great Lakes sanctuary, the only sanctuary located entirely within state waters, and the first sanctuary to focus solely on a large collection of underwater cultural resources. These resources include shipwrecks and historical remnants of docks and piers. Only one other sanctuary focuses its protection efforts on a shipwreck - Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, which encompasses the wreck of a Civil War ironclad battleship that sank off the coast of North Carolina in 1862.

The sanctuary/preserve will complements and supplements existing efforts to protect the underwater cultural resources in Thunder Bay, improve scientific knowledge of those resources, and enhance understanding of Great Lakes maritime heritage.

Diver on Monohansett
Dr. Jay Martin, director of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, takes notes while investigating machinery on the wreck of the MONOHANSETT, a steamer that sank in Thunder Bay in 1907.


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How was Thunder Bay nominated to be a sanctuary?
In the early 1970s, the Alpena community began exploring the potential for an underwater park featuring shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay region. An inventory of Thunder Bay's underwater cultural resources, conducted by Michigan State University in 1975, suggested that the number of wrecks located in the area warranted the establishment of an underwater "reserve." A local diving club supported this idea and, under state law, Thunder Bay was declared Michigan's first Great Lakes Bottomland Preserve in 1981.

At the same time, NOAA was developing a "Site Evaluation List" identifying potential National Marine Sanctuaries. Several Alpena community members submitted a proposal to NOAA for a Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (NMS), and following public comment, Thunder Bay was added to the list of potential NMS candidates in 1983. The formal process to determine the feasibility of a sanctuary began in July 1991.

For more information, see History of the Sanctuary.

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How are local interests represented in sanctuary/ preserve management?
The local sanctuary/preserve office works formally with the Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC), a fifteen-member group representing local sport and commercial anglers, sport and commercial divers, charter boat operators, area tourism councils, area festival organizers, historic preservationists, education and research institutions, and city and county governments. The SAC advises and provides recommendations to the sanctuary/preserve manager about issues relating to resource protection, research, education, and implementation of the sanctuary's Management Plan.

For more information, see SAC.

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What is the Management Plan?
The Management Plan is a five-year plan that describes the cultural resource protection, education, and research programs that will be undertaken by the sanctuary/preserve. The Management Plan identifies activities to promote awareness and understanding of Thunder Bay's underwater cultural resources and Great Lakes maritime heritage. NOAA will periodically review and update the Management Plan in consultation with the SAC and the State.

The Management Plan can be downloaded as part of the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Management Plan.

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What opportunities will the sanctuary/preserve provide for visitors?
As part of the National Marine Sanctuary Program, Thunder Bay receives national media attention and has access to cutting edge educational, research and monitoring expertise. NOAA will provide federal funds for many activities, such as live video hook-ups in school classrooms showing researchers diving on the shipwrecks, an interpretive "shipwreck trail," and other maritime heritage education programs for local residents and tourists. Collaborative management between NOAA and the State will improve protection of Thunder Bay's underwater cultural resources.

The sanctuary/preserve works in partnership with local governments to develop a maritime heritage center, which provide interpretive outreach programs for residents and tourists. The sanctuary/preserve will also collaborates with lighthouses, coastal parks, and marinas to provide opportunities for other user groups to enjoy the maritime heritage of Thunder Bay.

For more information, see Sanctuary Activities and News & Events.

Divers visiting Nordmeer
A dive charter boat visits the remains of the NORDMEER, a German freighter that ran aground near Thunder Bay in 1966.


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Will the sanctuary/preserve have positive economic impacts?
Yes. Businesses and National Marine Sanctuaries around the country are working together to benefit and strengthen local communities.

Designation of the sanctuary/preserve will likely result in economic benefits to the City of Alpena and surrounding communities, particularly through increased tourism. A number of business groups in the region support sanctuary designation because it will attract tourists and draw national exposure to the region. The sanctuary/preserve will also develop partnerships to build on existing efforts to encourage visitation, such as local festivals, lighthouse associations, and maritime-related events.

Alpena Harbor sign
A sign welcomes visitors and residents to Alpena Harbor. Alpena is home to a number of annual maritime events, including the Brown Trout Festival and the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival.

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Will access to the sanctuary/preserve be prohibited or restricted?
No. National Marine Sanctuaries encourage public and private uses as long as they are compatible with the goal of resource protection. Because the sanctuary/preserve will focus only on the protection of underwater cultural resources, only activities involving the disturbance or removal of these resources will be restricted.

NOAA will not develop regulations for Thunder Bay to manage natural resources such as fish and wetlands. Residents and visitors can continue to fish, swim, dive, boat, and conduct other activities within the sanctuary/ preserve.

NOAA willNOT :
- regulate fishing activities
- establish "no-fishing" zones
- impose boating restrictions
- regulate how, when, or where people dive
- charge user fees to any sanctuary visitors
- alter State sovereign rights or the rights of property owners.

The complete draft regulations are available for downloading as part of the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Management Plan.

Thunder Bay Island boathouse
A kayaker explores the historic boathouse of the Thunder Bay Island Life-Saving Station. Kayaking is a popular recreational activity in Thunder Bay.


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