The U.S. government is seeking public comment on plans to protect historic shipwrecks by creating a new national marine sanctuary in Lake Michigan.
On Monday, Jan. 9, NOAA began taking comments on its plan to protect 1,075 square miles of the lake.
The area lies along Wisconsin's Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Ozaukee counties. The Wisconsin sanctuary would be the second on the Great Lakes -- the Thunder Bay National Marine Sancuary is in Michigan, on the shore of Lake Huron.
NOAA says 37 shipwrecks have been discovered in the area, including the state's two oldest: the Gallinipper, which sank in 1833, and the Home, which sank in 1843. There are as many as 80 undiscovered shipwrecks in the area, the agency says.
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin said in a statement, "With today's announcement, Wisconsin stakeholders are one step closer to achieving their vision of a new marine sanctuary to celebrate out state's proud maritime heritage."
The sanctuary designation "would preserve nationally significant shipwrecks, [and allow] explorers to uncover their stories, and honor their contributions to shaping our nation," Kris Sarri, CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, said in a statement.
Great Lakes Today has reported on NOAA's efforts to expand its marine sanctuary program. The sanctuaries can bring a significant economic impact to a locality -- that's why Great Lakes communities are interested. Oswego, N.Y., for example, has sought to create a sanctuary in eastern Lake Erie.
NOAA is also seeking comments on its plan for a Potomac River sanctuary that would include more than 100 shipwrecks, including the “Ghost Fleet” created in World War I. The area is a popular kayaking destination.
The new sanctuaries would be the first created by NOAA since 2000.
To comment on the Lake Michigan proposal, go to www.regulations.gov and use docket number NOAA-NOS-2016-0150. Public hearings will be held in Wisconsin in March.