Lake Ontario has 60+ shipwrecks that could soon be tourist attractions

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Lakes are often tourist destinations, but not usually for what’s underneath the water.

Did you know there’s over 60 shipwrecks at the bottom of the eastern portion of Lake Ontario, representing more than 200 years of history?

For this reason, it could soon be marked a National Marine Sanctuary.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a draft proposal earlier this month.

Lawmakers like Congressman John Katko have been advocating for this potential national recognition.

“It could be a play land for divers and tourists,” said Katko. “There’s less than 20, I believe, marine sanctuaries in the nation so for them to get that designation would be a very big thing.”

The proposed underwater national park includes parts of Wayne County, known for it’s lakefront at Sodus Point.

The Wayne County historian says this has been in the works for 20 years, and would create significant economic impact.

The NOAA draft itself offers a few budget options, saying the proposed Lake Ontario
National Marine Sanctuary could potentially cost up to $1 million a year to pay for staff, research, public outreach and more.

“The budget for the sanctuary will be contingent on several factors, including the overall operational and construction budgets for ONMS as determined by Congress, and spending priorities determined by ONMS and NOAA.”

Not everyone is on board with it.

“The benefits I think are fairly minimal,” said Jim Kennard, local shipwreck explorer.

Kennard of Fairport has been exploring local shipwrecks for over 50 years, using some of his own handmade sonar equipment. He says a lot of the research has already been done.

“They want to also come and survey the whole area again, now that costs millions of dollars, we’ve already done it, sonar professionals,” he said.

He says the number of recreational diving sites for shipwrecks in the designated area is about 6, calling it minimal compared to other sites in the country (Alpena, Michigan) which have 80 recreational diving spots. And, any public interest in shipwrecks is hard to come by these days, he says.

“I was doing about 30 presentations a year, now it’s down to probably less than six a year, it shows a big decline in interest in shipwrecks.”

There will be four public information sessions in August, two of which are virtual.

The sanctuary nomination first originated as a community-based initiative and will continue to be locally driven. It was first submitted in 2017 by Oswego, Jefferson, Cayuga and Wayne counties.

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