In 2015 Congress considered adding a second underwater marine sanctuary in the Great Lakes. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, accepted, then tabled the Wisconsin-Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary. There are renewed calls to confirm the new marine sanctuary in Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan waters for scuba and recreational opportunities.
If approved by Congress, it would join Michigan’s Thunder Bay sanctuary in Lake Huron and be the 14th marine sanctuary in the United States.
For Scuba Adventures in Lake Michigan
The proposed 962-square-mile sanctuary would be located along 80 miles of Wisconsin shoreline home to Port Washington, Sheboygan, Manitowoc, and Two Rivers. The boundary extends 9 to 14 miles into the lake. It will contain 39 known shipwrecks found in water depths ranging from 10 to 460 feet—15 of these wreaks listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Most recreational scuba divers will be able to visit wreaks from 100 feet and shallower.
Archival analysis hints that from 60 – 120 additional shipwrecks are yet to be found in the sanctuary area
Outstanding Historical Lake Michigan Shipwrecks to Dive
Fourteen of the known shipwrecks are intact, and the level of hull integrity of these sites far surpasses that of other regions in Wisconsin. Three ships still have the masts standing masts – an uncommonness in the Great Lakes. Four vessels, the Tennie and Laura, the Walter B. Allen, the Gallinipper, and the Silver Lake, all possess standing masts a rarity in the Great Lakes.
A highlight of the sanctuary is the Walter B. Allen. This ship is one of the most intact schooners on the bottom of the Great Lakes. Because it sank slowly in a snowstorm in April 1888, the two masts are still standing and rise to within 90 feet of the surface. The ship rests at 165 feet. The Walter B. Allen’s capstan was recovered and now can be seen in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Lake Michigan is the second largest of the Great Lakes with a surface area of 22,300 square miles, making it the largest freshwater lake entirely in the United States and the 5th largest lake in the world.
Next Steps for the Lake Michigan Sanctuary
NOAA has currently tabled the application after taking public comments. Many people supported the proposed sanctuary during the public comment period, citing the tourism, economic, education, and shipwreck protection benefits.
In 2019, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers announced his support and petition to the NOAA to renew the Wisconsin-Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary proposal. The renewed proposal adds northern Kewaunee County shoreline to Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Ozaukee counties. With the addition, the sanctuary’s area would increase to 1,260 square miles and adds 4 additional known shipwrecks and 14 additional unexplored potential shipwrecks.
The marine sanctuary would bring new opportunities for research, resource protection, educational programming along with encouraging heritage tourism and Scuba recreation.
NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary System
The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the administrator for a chain of underwater parks containing more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters across the country, including Lake Huron to American Samoa. The network includes a system of 14 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.