Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

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Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve
Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.jpg
Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center
Relief map of USA Michigan.png
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Location among Michigan's Underwater Preserves
Location Lake Huron (Alcona, Alpena, and Presque Isle counties, Michigan)
Nearest city Alpena, Michigan
Coordinates 45°00′12″N83°15′11″W / 45.0034°N 83.253°W / 45.0034; -83.253 Coordinates: 45°00′12″N83°15′11″W / 45.0034°N 83.253°W / 45.0034; -83.253
Area4,300 sq mi (11,000 km2)
Governing body Michigan Department of Natural Resources, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve is a United States National Marine Sanctuary on Lake Huron's Thunder Bay, within the northeastern region of the U.S. state of Michigan. It protects an estimated 116 historically significant shipwrecks ranging from nineteenth-century wooden side-wheelers to twentieth-century steel-hulled steamers. There are a great many wrecks in the sanctuary, and their preservation and protection is a concern for national policymakers. [1] The landward boundary of the sanctuary extends from the western boundary of Presque Isle County to the southern boundary of Alcona County. The sanctuary extends east from the lakeshore to the international border. Alpena is the largest city in the area.



Map of Thunder Bay sanctuary showing original boundaries Thunder Bay NMS map.jpg
Map of Thunder Bay sanctuary showing original boundaries

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration established Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve in 2000. It became the thirteenth overall and first on the Great Lakes. Original boundaries followed that of Alpena County to 83 degrees west longitude totaling 448 square miles (1,160 km2). In 2014 it was expanded to 4,300 square miles (11,000 km2). [2] The marine sanctuary contains many shipwrecks, such as the hull of package freighter SS Pewabic.

Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center

Tied to the sanctuary is the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. The museum, located in Alpena on the Thunder Bay River, features exhibits about local shipwrecks and the Great Lakes, an auditorium, an archaeological conservation lab, and education areas.

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Lake Huron One of the Great Lakes of North America

Lake Huron is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. Hydrologically, it comprises the easterly portion of Lake Michigan–Huron, having the same surface elevation as its westerly counterpart, to which it is connected by the 5-mile-wide (8.0 km), 20-fathom-deep Straits of Mackinac. It is shared on the north and east by the Canadian province of Ontario and on the south and west by the state of Michigan in the United States. The name of the lake is derived from early French explorers who named it for the Huron people inhabiting the region. The Huronian glaciation was named due to evidence collected from Lake Huron region. The northern parts of the lake include the North Channel and Georgian Bay. Across the lake to the southwest is Saginaw Bay. The main inlet is the St. Marys River, and the main outlet is the St. Clair River.

Alpena County, Michigan U.S. county in Michigan

Alpena County is a county in the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the population was 29,598. The county seat is Alpena. It is considered to be part of Northern Michigan.

Alpena, Michigan City in Michigan, United States

Alpena is the only city and county seat of Alpena County in the U.S. state of Michigan. The population was 10,483 at the 2010 census. After Traverse City, it is the second most populated city in the Northern Michigan region. The city is surrounded by Alpena Township, but the two are administered autonomously. It is the core city of the Alpena micropolitan statistical area, which encompasses all of Alpena County and had a total population of 28,360 at the 2010 census.

Thunder Bay (Michigan) bay in Michigan, United States

Thunder Bay is a bay in the U.S. state of Michigan on Lake Huron. The bay extends from North Point at 45°01′19″N83°15′58″W to South Point at 44°53′00″N83°18′51″W.

United States National Marine Sanctuary Zone in US waters designated for special protection

A U.S. National Marine Sanctuary is a zone within United States waters where the marine environment enjoys special protection. The program began in 1972 in response to public concern about the plight of marine ecosystems.

The protected areas of Michigan come in an array of different types and levels of protection. Michigan has five units of the National Park Service system. There are 14 federal wilderness areas; the majority of these are also tribal-designated wildernesses. It has one of the largest state forest systems as well having four national forests. The state maintains a large state park system and there are also regional parks, and county, township and city parks. Still other parks on land and in the Great Lakes are maintained by other governmental bodies. Private protected areas also exist in the state, mainly lands owned by land conservancies.

The Thunder Bay River is a 75.4-mile-long (121.3 km) river in the U.S. state of Michigan. It drains much of Alpena County and Montmorency County, and a small portion of Oscoda County, into Thunder Bay on the eastern side of northern Michigan. The mouth of the river is in the heart of downtown Alpena and is guarded by the Alpena Light Station.

Alpena Light lighthouse in Michigan, United States

The Alpena Light, also known as the Thunder Bay River Lighthouse or Alpena Breakwater Light, is a lighthouse on Lake Huron near Alpena, Michigan. Standing on the north breakwater of Alpena Harbor, the light marks the entrance to the Thunder Bay River from Thunder Bay. The current lighthouse, built in 1914, replaced earlier wooden structures which had been in use since 1877 and 1888. The current light is a weather-protected structure on a steel frame. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006, and the state inventory list the same year.

Michigan Underwater Preserves Protected areas of the Great Lakes on Michigans coast

Michigan Underwater Preserves or Michigan Bottomland Preserves are protected areas of the Great Lakes on Michigan's coast. The thirteen designated areas, comprising a surface area of over 7,000 square miles (18,000 km2), are considered to be "Underwater museums" and serve to protect concentrations of shipwrecks, unique geologic features and other submerged sites through awareness and public interest. The program is currently receiving no funding from the state and does not offer any extra legal protection for the sites in the preserves. However, it is a felony to remove or disturb underwater artifacts in the Great Lakes. Persons apprehended and convicted of removing or willfully damaging underwater artifacts risk confiscation of their equipment, stiff fines and up to two years imprisonment. The Michigan Underwater Preserve Council advocates on behalf of all of Michigan's Underwater Preserves.

Sturgeon Point Light historic lighthouse in Michigan, United States

The Sturgeon Point Light Station is a lighthouse on Lake Huron in Haynes Township, Alcona County, northeastern lower Michigan. Established to ward mariners off a reef that extends 1.5 miles (2.4 km) lakeward from Sturgeon Point, it is today regarded as a historic example of a Cape Cod style Great Lakes lighthouse.

Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve Reserve to protect and conserve shipwrecks and historical resources in Lake Superior

The Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve was established in 1987 to protect and conserve shipwrecks and historical resources on 376 square miles (970 km2) of Lake Superior bottomlands in Whitefish Bay and around Whitefish Point, Michigan. The formation of the Michigan Underwater Preserves helped stop controversy over artifact removal from shipwrecks of this area. The preserve is now known for deep, well preserved shipwrecks in clear water accessible to scuba divers with technical skill and experience. The preserve is one of the last places in the Great Lakes to observe shipwrecks without zebra mussel encrustation.

Michigan Islands Wilderness Area

Michigan Islands Wilderness Area, a relatively small wilderness area of 12.5 acres (0.05 km2.), consists of Pismire Island, Scarecrow Island, and Shoe Island within the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge. These three islands, which constitute part of the group of islands that make up the larger refuge, were elevated to the rank of a United States wilderness area in 1970. All three islands are noted for their infrequent human visitation and their roles as breeding grounds for freshwater wading birds, such as the great blue heron.

<i>Miztec</i> (schooner barge)

The Miztec was built as a 3-masted schooner in 1890. She was later converted to a schooner barge and served as a consort for lumber hookers on the Great Lakes. She escaped destruction in a severe 1919 storm that sank her longtime companion, the SS Myron, only to sink on the traditional day of bad luck, Friday the 13th, 1921, with the loss of all hands. She came to rest on Lake Superior's bottom off Whitefish Point near the Myron.

Rockport State Recreation Area state park in Michigan, United States

Rockport State Recreation Area is a 4,237-acre (17.15 km2) state park located along the shore of Lake Huron in Alpena and Presque Isle counties in the state of Michigan. It is operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and was established in 2012. The park contains limestone formations and an old limestone quarry. There is a deep water boat launch that can accommodate all sizes of watercraft. The park is located along the Lake Huron Flyway and is used to gauge the health of Lake Huron and its shoreline environment. Several ship wrecks can be found off-shore in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary including the Portland and the Portsmouth. The park was previously known as "The Rockport property" and is not far north of Alpena, Michigan.

<i>SS Pewabic</i> United States historic place

The SS Pewabic was a package freighter that served ports on the Upper Great Lakes. She was launched in October 1863, fitted out in the spring of 1864, and was in active service until she sank off Thunder Bay Island in Lake Huron on August 9, 1865, due to collision with her sister vessel. There was significant loss of life, with a number variously estimated at 100 or 125 passengers and crew of the stricken vessel going down with the ship. If the higher number is accepted, the loss of life made this disaster, in terms of loss of life from the sinking of a single vessel, the seventh-worst tragedy in the history of the Great Lakes, and the worst ever on Lake Huron. The sunken hull of the package freighter is a feature of the present-day Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

SS <i>D.R. Hanna</i> 552-foot steel freighter that sank on Lake Huron in 1919

SS D.R. Hanna was a 552-foot (168 m) long American Great Lakes freighter that operated on the Great Lakes from November 12, 1906 to her sinking on May 16, 1919 after a collision with Quincy A. Shaw. D.R. Hanna was like many other freighters, and was used to haul bulk cargoes such as iron ore, coal and grain.

SS <i>Choctaw</i> Unique semi-whaleback steamship ship wrecked in Lake Huron in 1915

SS Choctaw was a semi-whaleback freighter built by the Cleveland Shipbuilding Company in 1892. She was a monitor vessel that was designed to evade Alexander McDougall's patent on the whaleback vessel design. She sank on July 11, 1915, on Lake Huron after a collision with the Canadian package freighter Wahcondah. For more than 100 years the location of Choctaw's wreck remained unknown until she was discovered perfectly preserved and on her side on May 23, 2017, in about 300 feet (91 m) of water.

SS <i>Ohio</i> (1875) Wooden steamship wrecked in Lake Huron in 1894

SS Ohio was a wooden hulled Great Lakes freighter that served on the Great Lakes of North America from her construction in 1875, to her sinking in September 1894 when she collided with the schooner barge Ironton which also sank in the collision. Ironton was being towed by the steamer Charles J. Kershaw, which was also towing the schooner Moonlight. Ohio was found upright in 2017, over 122 years after her sinking in over 200 feet of water off Presque Isle, Michigan. Ironton is still missing. The researchers who discovered Ohio plan to nominate her for a listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Middle Island (Lake Huron)

Middle Island is an island in Lake Huron, located in Alpena Township, Alpena County, Michigan. The island is positioned little over a mile and a half from the community of Lakewood on the mainland. The Middle Island Light, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and built in 1905, lies on the eastern edge of the island. It used to be home to a Life-Saving Station. The light house was automated in 1961, and regular staffing ceased. The island is within the boundaries of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It preserves the lighthouse along with the shipwreck Portsmouth (1867). 45.1978°N 83.3338°W


  1. Statement of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Director Archived 2007-07-15 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Smith, Vernon; Gandualla, Stephanie. "NOAA expands Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron". NOAA . Retrieved 11 September 2014.