History of the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast NMS Designation

On August 16, 2021, NOAA designated Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast NMS as the 15th national marine sanctuary in the system and the second one in the Great Lakes.  The designation is the culmination of several years of a public process to help shape the proposal. The following summarizes the steps of the sanctuary designation process.

Sanctuary nomination

On December 2, 2014, the state of Wisconsin submitted a nomination asking NOAA to accept the mid Lake Michigan area onto the inventory of places that NOAA would consider as a national marine sanctuary. The nomination cited conservation goals to protect and conserve the nation's cultural heritage as well as opportunities to leverage the sanctuary to expand public access, recreation, tourism, research, and education.

First step of sanctuary designation

On October 7, 2015, NOAA announced that it would initiate the sanctuary designation process for Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast. That announcement initiated a 90-day public comment period during which NOAA solicited additional input related to the scale and scope of the sanctuary, including ideas presented in the community nomination. NOAA hosted three public meetings in November 2015 and provided additional opportunities for comments through the web and traditional mail. All comments received were made available to the public through the www.regulations.gov web portal.

Draft documents and proposed rule

On January 9, 2017, based on public comments received during the scoping period and in consultation with the state of Wisconsin, NOAA published a draft environmental impact statement, draft management plan, and proposed rule. Together, these documents constituted a proposal by NOAA to designate a 1,075-square-mile Wisconsin–Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary (ultimately named Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary) which would protect 37 shipwrecks and related underwater cultural resources that possess exceptional historic, archaeological, and recreational value. The increased area reflected the public scoping comments and updated shipwreck location information from the state of Wisconsin.

NOAA opened an 81-day comment period on the draft environmental impact statement, draft management plan, and proposed rule, which closed on March 31, 2017, and resulted in 566 written comments. NOAA also held four public meetings during the week of March 13 in the Wisconsin towns of Algoma, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Port Washington. Approximately 400 people attended the meetings, with 75 people providing verbal comments. Based on these public comments, interest from Kewaunee County, and state input, NOAA ultimately chose to designate a 962-square-mile area containing 36 known historic shipwrecks (see final environmental impact statement).

Final documents and final rule

In June 2020, with input from the public, industry stakeholders, and in close consultation with the state of Wisconsin, NOAA published a final environmental impact statement and final management plan for the proposed Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary. NOAA followed up on June 23, 2021 with a final rule to designate the sanctuary. After a 45-day review period by Congress and the Governor of Wisconsin, the sanctuary designation became effective on August 16, 2021.