Protecting Wisconsin’s Maritime Heritage

The proposed Wisconsin-Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary

The proposed 1,075-square-mile Wisconsin–Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary would protect 37 shipwrecks and related underwater cultural resources that possess exceptional historic, archaeological, and recreational value.

“…a national marine sanctuary would expand the legacy of Wisconsin’s maritime archaeology program, expand recreational and tourism opportunities…promote stewardship of the largest freshwater system in the world… [and] create the sense of place the citizens of Wisconsin value so deeply.”

Scott Walker

Governor, State of Wisconsin

The Wisconsin-Lake Michigan Sanctuary Designation

Designation of a national marine sanctuary in Wisconsin protects riparian rights as defined by the State of Wisconsin.

Under Wisconsin law, riparian owners have the exclusive right to use the exposed bed of the lake in front of their property when the water level is low.

Designation supports community-driven economic development.

A study of the economic impacts found that Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, MI has had a positive economic impact to Michigan of more than $90 million in sales, $35 million in personal income, and about 1,700 jobs. In 2010, the state of Michigan and Alpena community overwhelmingly supported expansion of their sanctuary.

Designation recognizes state law regarding public access to the area in which shoreline property owners have exclusive access.

The proposal recognizes the state’s sovereignty over its waters and submerged lands. NOAA works successfully with states to determine the boundary for the sanctuary and recognizes state boundaries and definition for the line between public and private land.

What is the National Marine Sanctuary System?

The National Marine Sanctuary System conserves special areas in America’s ocean and Great Lakes. The System currently includes 14 sites from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific. Nationwide, sanctuaries generate an estimated $8 billion annually for local economies.

Why is Wisconsin-Lake Michigan being considered?

In December 2014, the State of Wisconsin, in partnership with the cities of Two Rivers, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Port Washington, and the counties of Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Ozaukee, with the support of a broad coalition of individuals and community organizations, submitted a community nomination to designate a section of Lake Michigan as a new maritime heritage sanctuary.

What do Wisconsinites think of the proposed sanctuary?

NOAA hosted seven public meetings during the initial scoping process (November 2015) and during the sanctuary proposal and public comment period (March 2017). Wisconsonites submitted over 785 written comments during this time, the strong majority of which support the creation of a Wisconsin-Lake Michigan as a national marine sanctuary.

Where would the sanctuary be?

The proposed sanctuary would designate a 1,075-square-mile sanctuary in Lake Michigan (see left) that would protect 37 known historic shipwrecks about 80 potential shipwrecks, and other historic maritime-related features. The area includes Wisconsin’s two oldest known shipwrecks dating to the 1830s. Eighteen of the 37 shipwrecks are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This sanctuary, if designated, will impact your children. It will connect them to our Great Lakes and shared maritime heritage; to get them out on the water to explore, discover, and learn more about our history and the science used to understand this most precious resource; and it will reveal to them the many stories of shipbuilders, sailors, entrepreneurs, immigrants, and business people who did, and continue to, make their livelihoods on the water. Rolf Johnson

Cheif Executive Officer, Wisconsin Maritime Museum

Wisconsin’s communities along Lake Michigan’s coast worked together to develop this sanctuary proposal. This is our chance to preserve our history and share it with future generations.

Leslie Kohler

Chairman, Sailing Education of Sheboygan

Local Benefits of a National Marine Sanctuary

National recognition. Wisconsin-Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary would join with only 14 other bodies of water around the country recognized as areas of special national significance due to its exceptional historical, recreational, scientific, cultural, archeological, and educational qualities.

Science, Exploration, and Education. New tools to preserve 37 known shipwrecks, with the potential for more to be found, and support of exploration by biologists, naturalists, historians, and archaeologists.

Economic Benefits. Designations bring economic benefits from increased recreation and tourism, and new education research and job opportunities. National marine sanctuaries foster and strengthen potential partnerships and provide for additional resources to benefit the community.

Enhanced Preservation. Existing laws to protect the shipwrecks have important gaps that the authorities in the National Marine Sanctuaries Act would complement and aid in managing and preserving the shipwreck. Although 15 of the shipwrecks in the proposed sanctuary are on the National Register of Historic Places, this is an honor but provides no management assistance, funding, or other protection.

Explore. Discover. Engage.


Find more information and follow along:

Earth Is Blue Magazine

Proposed Wisconsin-Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary

Facebook: National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

Twitter: @marinesanctuary

Want to get involved?

You can contact your members of Congress, Governor Walker, and the Department of Commerce to express your opinion:

US Senator Ron Johnson
414-276-7282 (Milwaukee)

US Senator Tammy Baldwin
414-297-4451 (Milwaukee)

US Representative Glenn Grothman
920-907-0624 (Fond du Lac)

Governor Scott Walker
608-266-1212 (Madison)

Secretary Wilbur Ross
US Department of Commerce
202-482-2000 (Washington, DC)