Shipwreck sanctuary to preserve spirit of nation’s busiest waterway

Local detail of sanctuary
map by NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published the final rule for the designation of the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary on June 23. The designation will take effect after review by the governor and Congress over a 45-day period of continuous session.

The proposed sanctuary includes a 962-square-mile area of Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan from Kewaunee County south to Ozaukee County that will protect 36 historically significant shipwrecks and related maritime heritage resources, 21 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The State of Wisconsin and NOAA will co-manage the sanctuary.

Well-preserved by Lake Michigan’s cold, fresh water, several of the known shipwrecks are essentially intact and look much like they did when they sank. The area also includes Wisconsin’s two oldest known shipwrecks, with the oldest dating back to 1833. Research suggests that up to 60 additional shipwrecks could be discovered in the sanctuary.

“The shipwrecks that scatter Lake Michigan help tell the story of Wisconsin. They are a reminder of our enduring relationship between the people of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes,” said DNR Secretary Preston D. Cole. “Wisconsin is defined by water. The Great Lakes are key to our economic prosperity and our way of life. Preserving the artifacts of our maritime heritage is an important way to remember and learn from those who came before us.” 

The historic shipwrecks in the proposed sanctuary represent the tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit of generations of Americans.

Spanning the early 1800s through the 20th century, the shipwrecks represent a cross-section of vessel types that played critical roles in transforming the Great Lakes from a maritime frontier into the nation’s busiest waterway. During this period, workday wooden schooners and innovative steel steamships moved people, raw materials, agricultural and industrial products more than ever before.

Wisconsin would become the 15th of NOAA’s marine sanctuaries which together encompass more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters.

The State of Wisconsin submitted the sanctuary nomination to NOAA in December 2014 on behalf of coastal communities and many other partners. A diverse coalition of organizations and citizens at local, state, regional and national levels endorsed the nomination. This included elected officials, businesses, historical societies, museums, and recreational, fishing, tourism, environmental and educational groups. Principal cities involved in proposing the sanctuary nomination included Two Rivers, Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Port Washington.

Visit for more information about the sanctuary.

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