The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is pursuing a job not commonly associated with the scientific agency - finding places of historical and cultural value that deserve to be protected, particularly those that rest on the bottom of Chesapeake Bay.
The work is part of the new federal initiative to conserve the bay, and fits with NOAA's mission of protecting marine resources.
Since the bay and its rivers lie entirely in state waters, NOAA will bring resources to the effort, but ask for state leadership in identifying potential sites and the ways in which a protected area might be managed.
"Our hope is to not only work with Maryland and Virginia, but to have them take the lead, while we support the states in doing it," said Paul Ticco, who coordinates NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary program for the East Coast and Great Lakes.
Ticco said that the preservation of historic and cultural marine sites is underfunded in the bay region and NOAA resources can help protect them for future generations.
Preserving such sites could also promote public involvement with the bay restoration.
For example, the NOAA model for National Marine Sanctuaries, one of several classifications within the National Marine Protected Areas program, features an outreach program that weds history, science and stewardship into one package.
"A site in the bay would have a multiplier effect," Ticco said.
"Visitors might come to learn about a shipwreck, but they can also learn about the conservation of bay resources, pollution and what individuals can do to help."
No specific amount of federal funding is linked to the effort, but Ticco anticipates supporting a future site with NOAA resources for both outreach and science.