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Press Releases

September 17, 2005

Jean Prevo, Thunder Bay
National Marine Sanctuary
(989) 356-8805


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today opened its new Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, Mich. The 20,000-square-foot facility features exhibits about shipwrecks and the Great Lakes, an auditorium for viewing underwater video of shipwrecks, and an archaeological conservation laboratory.

"I am pleased that the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center is finally a reality," said Michigan Sen. Carl Levin. "This state-of-the-art facility has been constructed with an energy-efficient, sustainable building design. Through real-time video, the center will offer visitors the opportunity to interact with divers exploring the shipwrecks of Thunder Bay and even control remote submersibles. This technology enables visitors to experience these magnificent wrecks without ever leaving dry land."

"NOAA's sanctuaries are an important part of one of our priorities to promote environmental literacy and education," said Brig. Gen. John J. Kelly, Jr., U.S. Air Force (Ret.), deputy under secretary for oceans and atmosphere. "We're proud to play a role in the revitalization of the Thunder Bay River front and look forward to working with the community of Alpena, the state of Michigan and our partners to highlight the invaluable maritime, cultural and marine resources of the Great Lakes through this new facility."

The center promises to be a vital and popular destination for residents and visitors, allowing the pubic to experience and appreciate the estimated 200 shipwrecks in Thunder Bay. The center will also assist efforts by non-profits and state and federal agencies to preserve shipwrecks throughout the region.

The center is located at the former Fletcher Paper Mill, a historic property that was renovated with an initial investment of $2.5 million from NOAA, made available with the assistance and support of Senator Carl Levin. The agency signed a 20-year lease with the building's owner, Alpena Marc, L.L.C., in September 2004. The center is the anchor of a major redevelopment along the Thunder Bay River that will also include a hotel and convention center, retail space, condominiums and restaurants.

"The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center will offer resources to maritime historians and researchers that are unparalleled in this region," said Jeff Gray, manager of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. "It will be an attraction for visitors from around the nation, offering innovative educational opportunities through real-time video links to shipwrecks and interactive exhibits."

The center will have temporary exhibits that will open in late October and will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. The permanent exhibit will open early in 2007.

The 448-square-mile Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary was established in 2000 to protect an estimated 200 historically significant shipwrecks ranging from nineteenth century wooden side-wheelers to twentieth century steel-hulled steamers. Located in Lake Huron, the sanctuary brings to the American public the lore of Great Lakes maritime heritage through exploration, education and research.

NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP) manages the National Marine Sanctuary System, which includes 13 national marine sanctuaries and one coral reef ecosystem reserve that together encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America's ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources. The NMSP seeks to increase the public awareness of America's marine environment and maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs.

NOAA's National Ocean Service manages the NMSP and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation's coasts and oceans. The National Ocean Service balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and nearly 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

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