Proposed Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary

In April 2019, in response to a community-based sanctuary nomination, NOAA announced its intent to designate a new national marine sanctuary in New York's eastern Lake Ontario. On July 7, 2021, NOAA published a draft environmental impact statement (EIS), which presented alternatives for the proposed sanctuary, and a draft management plan. After analyzing feedback from the public, stakeholders, federally recognized nations and tribes, and New York agencies, NOAA chose to move forward with the boundary alternative that encompasses 1,724 square miles of eastern Lake Ontario waters and bottomlands adjacent to Jefferson, Oswego, Cayuga, and Wayne counties in the state of New York.

NOAA Seeks Public Input

As the next step in the designation process, NOAA is publishing a notice of proposed rulemaking that includes the following draft provisions for establishing the site: a sanctuary boundary, regulations, and terms of designation. NOAA invites the public to comment on this proposed rulemaking and will consider all submitted comments when preparing final regulations in the last phase of the sanctuary designation process. The public comment period is open until March 20, 2023.

Comment Now

NOAA's Proposal

NOAA proposes to designate Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary in eastern Lake Ontario to recognize the national significance of the area's historical, archaeological, and cultural resources and to manage this special place as part of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The national significance of the area within and around the proposed sanctuary will benefit from long-term protection, management, and interpretation. The proposed boundary is a 1,724 square-mile area containing 43 known shipwrecks, including the historic schooner St. Peter, and one aircraft.

Final map of the proposed lake ontario national marine sanctuary

NOAA's Proposal

Eastern Lake Ontario

Boundary: 1,724 square-miles

Known Shipwrecks: 43

Potential Shipwrecks: 20

Known Aircraft: 1

Potential Aircraft: 3

These maritime heritage resources represent events spanning more than 200 years of our nation's history. Based on historical records, an additional 20 shipwrecks, three aircraft, and several other underwater archaeological sites may be located there. Over 1,000 years ago, the distinct cultural groups living along Lake Ontario had unified as the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Portions of the original homelands of the Onondaga Nation, Cayuga Nation, Seneca Nation, and Oneida Nation lie within the proposed boundaries of the sanctuary.

With this designation, NOAA would:

  • Manage the sanctuary through a regulatory and non-regulatory framework;
  • Document, explore, and monitor the sanctuary's resources;
  • Provide interpretation of the sanctuary's cultural, historical, and educational value to the public; and
  • Provide a national stage for promoting heritage tourism and recreation.

NOAA proposes the following regulations to protect underwater cultural and historical resources in the proposed sanctuary:

  • Prohibit moving, removing, recovering, altering, destroying, possessing or otherwise injuring a sanctuary resource;
  • Prohibit possessing, selling, offering for sale, purchasing, importing, exporting, exchanging, delivering, carrying, transporting, or shipping by any means any sanctuary resource within or outside of the sanctuary;
  • Prohibit grappling or anchoring on shipwreck sites;
  • Prohibit deploying tethered underwater mobile systems at shipwreck sites without a permit; and
  • Prohibit interfering with an investigation.

Sanctuary resource means all historical resources as defined at 15 CFR 922.3, which includes any pre-contact and historic sites, structures, districts, objects, and shipwreck sites within sanctuary boundaries.

Public Meetings

NOAA invites the public to comment on the proposed rulemaking to inform the agency's decision on the final specifications of the proposed Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary. To gather public input on the proposed designation, ONMS will host virtual and in-person meetings on the dates listed below. Members of the public can comment on any aspect of the proposal. In particular, NOAA is requesting comments on the boundary, the proposed regulations, the proposed Special Use Permit category for operating tethered underwater mobile systems at shipwreck sites, the proposed terms of designation, and potential names for the sanctuary. The public is invited to comment through March 20, 2023.

Oral public comments given at both the in-person and virtual meetings are limited to three minutes. Individuals who plan on attending the virtual public meetings to give oral comments should register in advance of the meeting using the registration links below. In order to provide oral public comment during the virtual meetings, participants must join the webinar online. Participants may also sign up to speak by typing "public comment sign up" and their name in the webinar question box at any point before public comment begins.

Note to All Participants:

All meetings may be held virtually if COVID-19 transmission rates or other circumstances require NOAA to do so. NOAA will keep this website current with meeting information. The meetings will be audio recorded, including the public comment section, for the purposes of accurately developing meeting minutes. All public comments received, including any associated names, will be captured and included in the meeting minutes transcript, will be public, and will be maintained by NOAA as part of its administrative record. All comments will be publically available via regulations.gov.

In-person public meeting 1:

Tuesday, February 28, 2023, 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. ET
Location: Oswego, NY

Address: Lake Ontario Event and Conference Center
26 E. 1st St.
Oswego, NY 13126
In-person public meeting 2:

Date and Time: March 1, 2023, 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. ET
Location: Wolcott, NY

Address: Wolcott Elks Lodge No. 1763
6161 W. Port Bay Rd
Wolcott, NY 14590

In-person public meeting 3:

Date and Time: March 2, 2023, 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. ET
Location: Watertown, NY

Address: Jefferson Community College
1220 Coffeen St.
Sturtz Theater, Room 4-111
Watertown, NY 13601

Virtual public meeting:

Wednesday, March 8, 2023, 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. ET
Registration: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8861683717081636701

Submit Comments Online

Submit all electronic public comments through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, www.regulations.gov. Search for "NOAA-NOS-2021-0050-0072". Click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

Submit Comments by Mail

Ellen Brody
Great Lakes Regional Coordinator
4840 South State Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48108–9719

Please note the docket number (NOAA–NOS–2021–0050) at the top of your comment.

For more information, contact:
Ellen Brody
NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
ellen.brody@noaa.gov
734–741–2270

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact ellen.brody@noaa.gov or lakeontario@noaa.gov.

Sanctuary Advisory Council

NOAA established a sanctuary advisory council to help inform the designation process and focus stakeholder participation.

About the Nomination

In January 2017, the city of Oswego and four counties (Oswego, Jefferson, Wayne, and Cayuga), with support from the governor, submitted a nomination for the proposed Great Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary to be added to NOAA's inventory for potential designation. New York nominated the area to protect and increase awareness of a nationally significant collection of shipwrecks; to foster partnerships with education and research groups; and to increase opportunities for tourism and recreation as part of the regional Blue Economy.

NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary System

national marine sanctuary system map

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 620,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington state to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The network includes a system of 15 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.