Mallows Bay - Potomac River

In October 2015, NOAA announced its intent to designate a new national marine sanctuary to help conserve nationally-significant shipwrecks and related maritime heritage resources in Maryland. Following a public comment period last year, NOAA has developed a detailed analysis for a proposed national marine sanctuary to protect Mallows Bay-Potomac River, a maritime heritage resource area along the Potomac River, about 40 miles south of Washington, D.C. The public now has an opportunity to review the proposal and provide input.


Mallows Bay boasts a diverse collection of nearly 200 known historic shipwrecks dating back to the Civil War, as well as archaeological artifacts dating back 12,000 years. The area is most renowned for the remains of more than 100 wooden steamships, known as the "Ghost Fleet," which were built for the U.S. Emergency Fleet between 1917-1919 as part of America’s engagement in World War I and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Their construction at more than 40 shipyards in 17 states reflected the massive national wartime effort that drove the expansion and economic development of communities and related maritime service industries.

Mallows Bay is a largely undeveloped landscape and waterscape identified as one of the most ecologically valuable in Maryland. Additionally, the structure provided by the ship remains and related infrastructure serve as habitat to populations of recreational fisheries, bald eagles, and other marine species.

Maps and Alternatives

Note that under Alternative A, NOAA would not designate a sanctuary.

map showing alternative b boundry

Alternative B

Resources Present: Includes 118 WWI-era U.S. Emergency Fleet Corporation steamships; MD Indian Tribes heritage sties; remains of historic fisheries operations such as sturgeon and caviar industries, and Revolutionary and Civil War battlescapes.

Boundaries: Boundaries coincide with the Mallows Bay Widewater Historical and Archeological National Register District

Approximate Total Area (sq. mi.): 18

map showing alternative c boundry

Alternative C (NOAA’s preferred alternative)

Resources Present: Includes Alternative B shipwrecks plus all known WWI-era USEFC vessels in MD waters and some historically, archaeologically, and recreationally significant shipwrecks and related assets which are not currently included in the Historic District.

Boundaries: The northern boundary extends near Ben Doane Road, MD, to Possum Nose, VA. The southern boundary extends from the end of Owens Drive east of Chotank Creek, VA to Benny Gray Point, MD.

Approximate Total Area (sq. mi.): 52

map showing alternative d boundry

Alternative D

Resources Present: This alternative would add area upstream and downstream from Alternative C that potentially includes maritime assets and that supports the visitor use goals of the sanctuary. For the former, anecdotal records suggest the presence of additional maritime heritage resources and the water escape route to Virginia used by John Wilkes Booth.

Boundaries: The northern boundary extends across the mouth of Pomonkey Creek from just south of Anne Mason Court in Indian Head, MD, to Pomonkey Point, MD, and then from Pomonkey Point, MD, to Hallowing Point, VA. The southern boundary extends from Pope's Creek, MD, to Persimmon Point on Mathias Neck, VA.

Approximate Total Area (sq. mi.): 100


For more information contact
Paul Orlando
Chesapeake Bay Regional Coordinator
ONMS Northeast and Great Lakes Region

About the Nomination

Mallows Bay–Potomac River was nominated as a national marine sanctuary through the Sanctuary Nomination Process with broad community and bipartisan support.

In September 2014, the state of Maryland submitted a nomination to be added to NOAA’s inventory of places to be considered as national marine sanctuaries. The nomination cited goals to protect and conserve the fragile remains of the nationally-significant collection of shipwrecks and cultural heritage resources as well as opportunities to foster education and research partnerships, and increased opportunities for public access, tourism, and economic development.

The nomination is endorsed by a diverse coalition of organizations and individuals at local, state, regional, and national levels. This included elected officials, Native Americans, historical societies, businesses, museums, and environmental, recreational, conservation, fishing, tourism, and educational groups.

NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary System

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 600,000 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 13 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.

system map