The only federally-protected underwater sanctuary on the Great Lakes could increase 10-fold to more than 4,000 square miles.
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron could expand from its current 448 square miles after an environmental study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
The expansion includes waters adjacent to Alcona and Presque Isle counties in the northeast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
The sanctuary receives about 70,000 visitors a year. It was established in 2000 and is managed by federal and state officials.
In 2007, sanctuary advisers adopted a resolution supporting the expanded boundaries, but recent tries at getting Congressional approval came up short.
Now the 30-person council will decide, after public comment, if it will continue to recommend it.
“We can get this thing done our way and hopefully it can get through,” said Steve Kroll, a member of the advisory board and an Alpena dive shop owner.
The sanctuary preserves nationally significant shipwrecks and other maritime heritage resources through protection, education and research. It is one of 14 U.S. marine sanctuaries that offer educational programs and scuba diving opportunities. Vessels can pass through it without restriction.
The proposed expansion includes an estimated 200 shipwrecks and would connect the underwater sanctuary from Michigan to the shores of Canada. No public funds are allotted as part of the approval.