Story at a glance

  • Wisconsin has more individually listed shipwrecks on the National Register of Historic Places than any other state.
  • Dozens of these historic wrecks are located in a section of Lake Michigan along the Wisconsin coast.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is designating the area a marine sanctuary.

There's a 962-square-mile area of Lake Michigan along the coast of Wisconsin, now officially designated the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary, where at least 36 historic shipwrecks sit below the water to this day — and dozens more are yet to be found. 

“We’re really excited about NOAA’s announcement,” said Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers in a release. “The designation builds on 30 years of maritime heritage preservation by the State of Wisconsin and will create exciting new opportunities in education, recreation, and tourism in our coastal communities.”


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Boats from the early 1800s through the 20th century are well-preserved by the cold, fresh water of one of the nation's busiest waterways and a historic maritime frontier. In addition to Wisconsin's two oldest known shipwrecks, archival research tells historians that other ships — some carrying grain and raw materials east while others took coal, manufactured goods and settlers west — met an unfortunate wind along the coast. 

It’s not just the past lurking below the waters, but also a present ecosystem of living organisms that have made their home in and around the wreckage. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the area would be protected as a marine sanctuary, co-managed with the state.  

“The designation of this sanctuary is a milestone for NOAA, Wisconsin, and the nation,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, acting director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service, in a release. “This new sanctuary opens the door to world-class research, educational opportunities, and tourism for generations to come.”


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Published on Jun 22, 2021