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Leading Edge Maritime Center Opens
in Lake Huron Community

National Marine Sanctuaries

On a brutal November morning in 1913, the steel-hulled ship Isaac M. Scott, built in 1909, sank in Lake Huron. All 28 passengers on board perished.  The ship was one of eleven Great Lakes vessels lost during the great storm of 1913, considered one of the most devastating storms of the 20th century to pound the Great Lakes. 

Diver exploring underwater shipwreck
Diver on propeller of the steamer Monohansett. (Photo: Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary)
Resting in what has become known as shipwreck alley, the Isaac M. Scott is just one of more than 150 shipwrecks found in Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The 448 square-mile sanctuary is managed by NOAA and the State of Michigan.

To give visitors to the area a greater sense of time and place, and appreciate the number of shipwrecks in Thunder Bay, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and State of Michigan opened the new Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center on Sept 17.

Funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the center features state-of-the art shipwreck exhibits, an auditorium for viewing films and footage of shipwrecks, and an archaeological conservation lab. The auditorium also has the capability to show live video feeds from shipwrecks.

The center is also on track to become a Gold Certified “LEEDs” building. Sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. The Center’s systems, fixtures, flooring, furniture and landscaping demonstrate NOAA’s commitment an environmentally sustainable future. The sanctuary has gone “green” in many ways. By using a geo-thermal heating and cooling system and low volume and waterless toilets, for example, the center has reduced water consumption by 48 percent.  Even the sanctuary’s 41-foot research vessel Huron Exporer is environmentally friendly. It doesn’t use any petroleum products at all, but instead, it uses rapeseed oil for hydraulic fluid, 100 percent soy biodiesel for engine fuel, and canola motor oil.

At the center’s opening ceremonies, world-renowned ocean explorer Robert Ballard, who pioneered underwater telepresence, plans to install the technology in Thunder Bay. Telepresence is an exploration technology in which remotely controlled robotic cameras explore the deep sea, and relay their information to the surface through fiber optic wires.

Underwater shipwreck
Bow of the schooner E.B.Allen, sunk in 1871. (Photo: Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary)
"I got the idea that if we could put a robot and camera down, then everyone could have the experience,” Ballard said. “That's why we're here. So nondivers can see and feel the thrill of what divers have been looking at. And you never have to get wet!” 

According to Jeff Gray, Thunder Bay’s sanctuary manager, “The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center will offer resources to maritime historians and researchers, as well as divers, that are unparalleled in this region.”

Thunder Bay offers divers of all levels many choices of wrecks to visit. Some sites are close to the surface and perfect for snorkeling or kayaking, while others lie in depths exceeding 180 feet. For the scholar and diver, the wrecks form a picture of historical themes from the 1830's to 1950's captured in the center’s numerous exhibits. The ships of Thunder Bay include wooden schooners, freighters, barges, victory ships, clippers, whalebacks and salt water freighters.

At 105 feet, divers can check out the remains of the Grecian, a freighter sunk in 1906 during a storm.  

The sidewheel steamer New Orleans met its demise on June13, 1847 when it struck a reef, grounded, and later broke apart from strong winds sinking the vessel. It now rests in 10 feet of water.

The Monohansett, one of Thunder Bay’s most visited wrecks, lies in 16 feet of water and is an ideal destination for snorkelers and divers. The ship caught fire and sunk in 1907 while on its way into Alpena. 

And for explorers, there are still many more shipwrecks to discover,  whose secrets have slipped through history’s cracks.

For more information on Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, call (989) 356-8805, or visit

great lakes center
(Photo: Adam Jurkowski/STC Images)

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