Frequently Asked Questions

Why is NOAA designating a sanctuary in Lake Ontario?

NOAA is designating 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 nationally significant underwater cultural and historical resources within the sanctuary require long-term protection and management to reduce threats that would adversely affect their historical, cultural, archaeological, recreational, and educational value. Sanctuary designation will bring new scientific, technological, and financial resources to a collaborative effort to identify, understand, conserve, and interpret the heritage resources in eastern Lake Ontario. A sanctuary will also create new opportunities for community involvement, scientific research, outreach and education across New York state and the international Great Lakes region. Designation will foster long-term conservation in the area by increasing public awareness and appreciation of this area and its resources. In partnership with local communities, NOAA will provide a national stage for promoting heritage tourism and recreation opportunities in the sanctuary.

What are the next steps in the designation process?

Upon publication of the final rule, Congress and the governor of New York will have 45 days of continuous congressional session to review the documents. As the proposed sanctuary lies totally within state waters, if the governor certifies to the secretary of commerce that the designation or any of its terms are unacceptable, then the designation or the unacceptable term will not take effect for the sanctuary. The sanctuary designation will become effective at the end of this 45-day period.

What is the history of this sanctuary designation process in New York?

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. A diverse coalition of organizations and individuals at local, state, regional, and national levels endorsed the nomination. This included elected officials, businesses, museums, and environmental, recreational, conservation, tourism, and educational groups.

What are the new regulations NOAA will be implementing to protect sanctuary resources?

NOAA is implementing the following regulations to manage and protect underwater cultural and historical resources in Lake Ontario National Marine 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
  • Prohibit interfering with an investigation

NOAA is delaying the effective date for the prohibition on grappling into or anchoring on shipwreck sites for two years beyond the effective date of the sanctuary designation. The purpose of this delay is to provide NOAA with adequate time to develop a shipwreck mooring program in consultation with the dive community and state and federal agencies; begin installing moorings at high priority shipwreck sites; and publish site plans and best practices for accessing shipwreck sites with and without moorings. All other regulatory provisions will become effective on the effective date of the sanctuary designation that is implemented by this final rule, including the prohibition on altering, destroying, or otherwise injuring any sanctuary resource (including shipwrecks). It will continue to be a violation of New York state law to damage shipwrecks, including damage from anchoring or grappling.

How do the sanctuary's regulations differ from New York state regulations protecting underwater cultural resources?

New York state regulations that protect underwater cultural resources focus on the prohibition to remove, injure, or destroy these resources. The Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary regulations add specific prohibitions on anchoring and grappling on shipwreck sites, using a remotely operated vehicle (tethered systems) without a permit, selling or possessing sanctuary resources, and interfering with enforcement actions. These value-added regulations more specifically address threats to underwater cultural resources.

How will NOAA engage the state and the public in sanctuary management?

The sanctuary will be co-managed by NOAA and the state of New York, and a memorandum of agreement will be established. Upon designation, NOAA will also establish a new Sanctuary Advisory Council. National marine sanctuary advisory councils are community-based advisory groups established to provide advice and recommendations to the sanctuary superintendent on issues including management, science, service, and stewardship.

Additionally, NOAA, in collaboration with the state, will conduct periodic sanctuary management plan reviews, during which time the public has the opportunity to provide input. The management plan review process allows national marine sanctuaries the opportunity to look at how the area is changing and adaptively manage in collaboration with our Indigenous, state, local, and federal partners, and engage the public in the decision-making process.

What is in the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary Management Plan?

Management plans are sanctuary specific planning and management documents used by all national marine sanctuaries. Management plans fulfill many functions, including outlining staffing and budget needs; setting priorities and performance measures for resource protection, research, and education programs; and guiding development of future budgets and management activities. The Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary Management Plan addresses sanctuary administration; research and monitoring; education and outreach; tourism and economic development; and resource protection.

Learn more about the management planning process, locate all sanctuary management plans, and learn about efforts to improve management effectiveness.

For more information contact

Ellen Brody
Great Lakes Regional Coordinator
NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
4840 South State Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48108