Frequently Asked Questions

Why is NOAA proposing to designate a sanctuary in Lake Ontario?

NOAA is proposing the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary to manage and interpret the area's nationally significant history and maritime heritage resources, including historic shipwrecks. Through research, education, and community involvement, NOAA would work to ensure future generations can learn about and explore this unique area. In partnership with local communities, NOAA would provide a national stage for promoting heritage tourism and recreation opportunities in the sanctuary.

Designation would bring new scientific, technological, and financial resources to a collaborative effort to identify, understand, conserve, and interpret the heritage resources of the sanctuary.  A sanctuary would also create new opportunities for community involvement, scientific research, outreach and education across New York State and the international Great Lakes region. Designation would also foster long-term conservation in the area by increasing public awareness and appreciation of this area and its resources.

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

In January 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo, acting on behalf of the state of New York, the counties of Jefferson, Wayne, Cayuga, and Oswego, and the City of Oswego, 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.

What are elements of this Draft Environmental Impact Statement?

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement outlines alternatives for a proposed sanctuary, including proposed sanctuary boundaries, regulatory concepts, and management activities. The document also includes background information on the shipwrecks, the local biological and physical environment, population, and economic activities in the area, as well as the anticipated impacts of creating a sanctuary.

What is in this Draft 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. This Draft Management Plan addresses sanctuary administration; research and monitoring; education and outreach; tourism and economic development; and resource protection (refer to Appendix A of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement).

What is NOAA's proposal for protecting shipwrecks through a regulatory approach?

NOAA is proposing the following concepts for regulations to manage and protect the resources in the proposed sanctuary:

  • Prohibit damage to sanctuary resources;
  • Prohibit grappling into or anchoring on shipwreck sites;
  • Prohibit the use of tethered systems (such as remotely operated vehicles) without a permit; and
  • Prohibit the possession, sale, or transport of any sanctuary resource within or outside of the sanctuary for artifacts collected after the sanctuary is designated.

NOAA is seeking public comment on these concepts and will consider all submitted comments when preparing proposed regulations in the next phase of the sanctuary designation process. The public will also have the opportunity to provide comments on the proposed regulations when it publishes its notice of proposed rulemaking in the next phase of the project.

In what specific areas is NOAA seeking public comment?

NOAA is asking for the public to review the draft environmental impact statement and the draft management plan and provide feedback on the documents. NOAA is specifically asking for input on:

  • Whether NOAA should move forward with the No Action Alternative, Alternative 1, or Alternative 2 in the rest of the designation process;
  • The regulatory concepts NOAA proposes to use to create regulations for the sanctuary in the next phase of the process;
  • The proposed goals, strategies, and activities for managing the sanctuary that are outlined in the draft management plan; and
  • Ideas for a sanctuary name that reflects the special significance of the area.

NOAA will consider these comments when preparing a proposed rulemaking to designate the sanctuary. The public will also have the opportunity to provide comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking. You may submit comments and view comments submitted under docket number NOAA-NOS-2021-0050 at Regulations.gov.

Would the designation impact commercial shipping activities?

NOAA's proposal does not include restrictions to shipping. To ensure compatible use with commercial shipping and other activities, NOAA would exclude the ports and harbors of Oswego, Pultneyville, Little Sodus, Great Sodus, and Port Ontario from the boundary of the sanctuary. NOAA would also exclude the federal navigation channel approaches, designated open water dredge disposal areas, and federal anchorage areas (in the St. Lawrence River) from the proposed sanctuary.

Would the sanctuary designation restrict scuba diver access to shipwreck sites?

The proposed national marine sanctuary designation would not include restrictions on access for recreational diving activity. NOAA's proposed regulatory concepts are designed to protect shipwrecks from damage while allowing users to safely access and enjoy the wrecks. NOAA's proposal to install mooring infrastructure on shipwreck sites would also benefit the diving community by providing a safe and easy way to access shipwrecks. Divers would be expected to be aware of and abide by appropriate sanctuary regulations.

Would sanctuary designation impact riparian rights and state sovereignty?

The sanctuary designation would not change existing riparian rights of property owners. All existing state laws, regulations, and authorities would remain in effect. The sanctuary boundary would run in the water along the state boundary line separating public and private property.

Would the sanctuary designation impact commercial or recreational fishing?

The proposed national marine sanctuary designation would not include restrictions on commercial or recreational fishing. The scope of the proposed sanctuary regulations would be narrowly focused on protecting underwater cultural resources. Though NOAA is proposing the regulatory concept of prohibiting anchoring or grappling at shipwreck sites to protect shipwrecks from damage, this would have minimal impact on fishing and boating activities. None of the other proposed regulatory concepts would have any impacts on fishing and boating activities.

Would the sanctuary designation impact wind energy development?

This proposed sanctuary would not limit responsibly sited energy development. Proposed energy generation and transmission projects are subject to rigorous federal and state review to minimize or avoid impacts to historic resources, including shipwrecks. If designated, NOAA would work with New York State to ensure that any proposed wind turbines and supporting infrastructure would be properly sited to avoid negative impacts to underwater cultural resources within the proposed sanctuary.

If designated, how would NOAA engage the state and the public in sanctuary management?

If the sanctuary is designated, the sanctuary would be co-managed by NOAA and the state of New York. Additionally, NOAA, in collaboration with the state, would conduct regular sanctuary management plan reviews, during which time the public has the opportunity to provide input. The periodic management plan reviews allow national marine sanctuaries the opportunity to look at how the area is changing and adaptively manage in collaboration with our state, local, and federal partners, and engage the public in the decision-making process.

What is the role of the Sanctuary Advisory Council for this proposed sanctuary?

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. In February 2020 NOAA established a Sanctuary Advisory Council made up of members from the public to gather input and advice on sanctuary management. Information on the proposed Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council can be found here:  https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/lake-ontario/advisory/