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After 10 Year Journey, Eastern Lake Ontario Designated a National Marine Sanctuary

Last week, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that 1,722 square miles of eastern Lake Ontario in the state of New York have been designated as a national marine sanctuary. This designation—which was made during Capitol Hill Ocean Week—recognizes the national significance of the area’s historical, archaeological, and cultural resources.

The designation was the culmination of 10 years of work on the part of numerous civic organizations, private citizens, and federal, state, and county officials, including Oswego County Administrator Philip Church, who chaired the Sanctuary Nomination Task Force. 

“Five years ago, I opened the first public hearing of the designation process by telling people why I was involved, and I posed a few questions to them,” said Church. “I told them of what I’d seen and experienced as a conservational shipwreck diver, and I asked: why can’t we have responsible access to wrecks in Lake Ontario? Why can we bring the lake’s secrets into every elementary classroom?”

With last week’s designation, those questions are finally answered.

“Now the truly rewarding effort begins as our local communities, in partnership with federal and state agencies, work to fulfill the educational, economic, research, and conservational potential of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary,” said Church.

The Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary is a historically rich area with lake shores and bottomlands that offer an intriguing window into the history of the area. As the gateway between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean, its maritime landscape features artifacts of a diverse collection of cultures of people who lived along its shores and journeyed across its waters. It’s shipwrecks and archaeological resources are among the best preserved in the world, offering a chance to learn, share, and connect to the past.

Over 1,000 years ago, the distinct cultural groups living along Lake Ontario had unified as the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Parts of the original homelands of the Onondaga Nation, Cayuga Nation, Seneca Nation, and Oneida Nation lie within the sanctuary’s boundaries.

Based on historical records, an additional 19 shipwrecks, three aircraft, and several other underwater archaeological sites may be located there.

By achieving the designation of National Marine Sanctuary, the treasures contained within the lake will become a major asset to Lake Ontario communities.

“We’re one of just a few to get the designation,” said Wayne County Administrator Rick House. “It gives us the opportunity to create more interest and get people to come to Wayne County, not only to explore the underwater vessels but to enjoy all that Wayne County has to offer. Beyond tourism, there is an educational component as well, with an opportunity to develop school curriculum related to Lake Ontario — from its role in commerce to the military, specifically battles between the Americans and the British during the War of 1812.”

James Weatherup, Chairman of the Oswego County Legislature, said “The designation of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary is a remarkable investment and achievement for Oswego County. This designation solidifies our commitment to protect and increase awareness about our great lake and the wonders it has to offer. This designation will protect our collection of shipwrecks to further educate our community. This is a huge advancement to our community development, economic growth and tourism related activities in Oswego County.”

Jefferson County Administrator Bob Hagemann noted, “The careful but steadfast networking and planning between various interest groups throughout our four-county waterfront region will have been accomplished.  As a direct result, the future of tourism, scientific research, K-12 & Higher education learning opportunities, business & economic growth, diving industry enhancement, recreation and developing additional maritime heritage programs in Jefferson County will be significantly enhanced in the years to come.”

To learn more about the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary, click here 

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is the official non-profit partner of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Foundation directly supports America’s national marine sanctuaries through our mission to protect species, conserve ecosystems and preserve cultural and maritime heritage. We accomplish our mission through community stewardship and engagement programs, on-the-water conservation projects, public education and outreach programs, and scientific research and exploration. The Foundation fosters innovative projects that are solution-oriented, scalable and transferable, and develop strategic partnerships that promote the conservation and recovery of species and their habitats. Learn more at  

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