Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary is America's 16th national marine sanctuary and the third in the Great Lakes. The area encompasses 1,300 square nautical miles (1,722 square miles) of eastern Lake Ontario waters and bottomlands adjacent to Jefferson, Oswego, Cayuga, and Wayne counties in the state of New York. Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary will celebrate the region's maritime cultural history and provide new opportunities for research, education, recreation, and maritime heritage-related tourism in local coastal communities.

The eastern corridor is one of the most historically significant regions in the Great Lakes and the country, as it has been critical to maritime trade and transportation for centuries, beginning with the canoes and boats of early Indigenous Peoples. 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 boundaries of the sanctuary.

The sanctuary area contains 41 known shipwrecks and one aircraft representing events spanning more than 200 years of our nation's history. Based on historical records, an additional 19 shipwrecks, three aircraft, and several other underwater archaeological sites may be located there. NOAA and the state of New York will co-manage the sanctuary.

Sanctuary Designation Process

In January 2017, the counties of Jefferson, Wayne, Cayuga, and Oswego, and the city of Oswego, with support from the governor of New York, submitted a nomination to NOAA asking to consider designating an area in eastern Lake Ontario waters as a national marine sanctuary to protect a nationally significant collection of historic shipwrecks. The nomination was endorsed by a diverse coalition of organizations and individuals at local, state, regional, and national levels. This included elected officials, businesses, museums, and environmental, recreational, conservation, tourism, and educational groups.

NOAA established a pre-designation Sanctuary Advisory Council in 2020. The Council, made up of a diverse group of community stakeholders, focused on stakeholder participation through the designation process and served as a liaison between NOAA and the community. The Council met throughout the designation process.

NOAA released a draft environmental impact statement outlining alternatives and a draft management plan for the proposed sanctuary in July 2021. NOAA received 65 written comments, most in support of the proposed sanctuary. The shipping community and several federal agencies raised safety concerns about the boundary alternative that included a portion of the St. Lawrence River. NOAA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in January 2023. The proposed boundary did not include the St. Lawrence River. NOAA received 95 written comments, most in support of the proposed sanctuary. Based on public comments on the draft environmental impact statement, draft management plan, proposed regulations, and consultations with federal, state and Indigenous Nations and Tribes, NOAA developed the final environmental impact statement, final management plan, and final rule. NOAA published a final environmental impact statement on April 19, 2024, followed by the final rulemaking on June 6, 2024.