Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
2013 Condition Report

Photo of motor of shipwreck

Summary and Findings

Designated in 2000, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary protects a nationally significant collection of historic shipwrecks and related maritime cultural resources in northern Lake Huron. Through research, resource protection and education, the sanctuary works to ensure that these important historic, archaeological and recreational sites are preserved for current and future generations. The variety of shipwreck types, genres, depths and locations combined with their excellent states of preservation make the area in and around the sanctuary a haven for divers, kayakers and snorkelers, as well as historians, archaeologists and students of all ages. The sanctuary's Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center helps connect non-divers with these treasures, while also serving as a base of operations for many researchers and expeditions each year. Additionally, the sanctuary serves as an anchor for heritage tourism, helping to attract businesses that have a positive impact on the local economy, and also supports a wide range of multidisciplinary research. Strong regional interest in the sanctuary by the public, local and state government, and non-government organizations has prompted the sanctuary's advisory council to recommend expanding the sanctuary boundaries, a process that is currently underway and summarized in this report. Consequently, there are many stakeholders with an interest in the sanctuary and the condition of its resources.

Overall, the condition of the sanctuary's maritime archaeological resources, both individually and as a collection, is considered to be good. Management actions such as the sanctuary's mooring buoy program, avocational archaeological training for divers, and targeted education and outreach programs are helping to limit human impacts on sanctuary resources. While some human impacts on sanctuary resources have been mitigated via strategic management actions and education programs, other pressures, such as impacts from non-indigenous species (e.g., zebra mussels), are more difficult to control. Increased sanctuary-driven research is producing a better understanding of the state of sanctuary resources and the pressures on them, as well as establishing a baseline for future monitoring, while at the same time allowing for enhanced education and outreach products. Likewise, sanctuary partners, including volunteer divers, are currently conducting research - both archaeological and multidisciplinary - at the highest levels since the sanctuary's designation. Law enforcement continues to be an area of concern for the sanctuary, though the U.S. Coast Guard Alpena Station conducts on-water patrols aimed at resource protection.

It should be noted that this condition report reflects Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary's management focus on maritime archaeological resources, chiefly historic shipwrecks, but also related heritage resources such as submerged docks, piers and other elements of maritime infrastructure.2 Consequently, this condition report does not directly address other aspects of the ecosystem (e.g., habitat and living resource quality). Exceptions, however, occur when there is a causal relationship between maritime archaeological resources and the ecosystem (e.g., the colonization of shipwrecks by non-indigenous mussels). Water quality issues are addressed in this report, but only where a nexus between shipwrecks and water quality could be identified (e.g., chiefly where poor water quality might prohibit public visitation of sanctuary resources). In general, water quality in the sanctuary as it relates to public access to maritime archaeological resources is considered to be good/fair. For the most part, changing or poor water quality is not an issue in Thunder Bay, nor is the resultant potential for decreased public visitation. 

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2The potential for submerged prehistoric sites also exists within the sanctuary and region (see Response section).