LAKE ONTARIO, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Across the eastern boundary of Lake Ontario that spans 1,724 miles, there have been 43 known shipwrecks and one known aircraft that have been submerged within the last 200 years, according to the NOAA.

And of the known wrecks, there are 20 potential shipwrecks and three potential aircraft wrecks.

Even though we can’t always see everything underwater, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t history to be preserved down there. Hence, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization’s (NOAA) proposal to designate a national marine Sanctuary in eastern Lake Ontario.

Map showing boundary and approximate location of shipwrecks in the proposed national marine sanctuary. Map: NOAA

The NOAA is looking to “recognize the national significance of the area’s historical, archaeological, and cultural resources and to manage this special place as part of the National Marine Sanctuary System,” the organization said.

In order to establish this, the proposal includes:

  • Boundaries
  • Regulations
  • Terms of designation

Besides the wrecks, there are presumed to be several other archeological sites located within the proposal’s underwater walls, with some, yet to be discovered.

The wreck of the steamer David W. Mills, a typical 19th century cargo vessel, lies within the proposed sanctuary. Courtesy of the Collection of Bowling Green State University

The goal of the sanctuary is to preserve, interpret and protect the region’s and the nation’s submerged maritime heritage resources and artifacts within the boundaries of the proposed NMS, according to NOAA. They are looking to expand and enrich regional and international research and educational programs. Projected to reach students from primary school up into graduate school. Specifically, hoping to reach those interested, or in the fields of marine sciences, maritime history, archeology and related disciplines.

They are also looking to build and maintain partnerships among the federal, state and local indigenous and international agencies for implementing the best practices in maritime heritage resource management.

On top of that, the proposal would further develop strengthened partnerships and co-programming in the areas of tourism, education and heritage preservation with local, state regional, national and international entities.

They’re hoping to grow the economic and tourism goals of the counties of Jefferson, Oswego, Cayuga and Wayne, along with the City of Oswego and New York State.

This proposal stems from a response to a community-based nomination that took place back in April 2019.

But the nomination spent a while in the planning phase.

“In January 2017, leaders of four New York counties (Jefferson, Oswego, Cayuga, and Wayne) and the City of Oswego, with support from the Governor of New York, submitted a nomination to NOAA, noting that sanctuary designation would bring new opportunities for research, educational programming, community engagement, and economic development,” said the NOAA.

Jump forward to July 2021, the NOAA officially published a draft of its environmental impact statement (EIS), which laid out other options for the sanctuary, as well as a draft management plan.

Tibett’s Point Lighthouse is one of nine lighthouses within the proposed sanctuary area. Courtesy of Ted Van Pelt

After analysis and feedback from the public, “stakeholders, federally recognized nations and tribes, and New York agencies, NOAA chose to move forward with the boundary alternative that encompasses 1,724 square miles of eastern Lake Ontario waters and bottomlands adjacent to Jefferson, Oswego, Cayuga, and Wayne counties in the state of New York,” the NOAA added.

The designation proposal coincides with the goals and recommendations in the Biden-Harris Administration’s Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful report, which specifically recommends expanding the National Marine Sanctuary System, as well as supporting Indigenous and locally-led conservation, according to the NOAA.

Within the sanctuaries, boundaries would be portions of the homelands of the Onondaga Nation, Cayuga Nation, Seneca Nation and Oneida Nation.

With this designation, NOAA would:

  • Manage the sanctuary through a regulatory and non-regulatory framework
  • Document, explore, and monitor the sanctuary’s resources
  • Provide interpretation of the sanctuary’s cultural, historical, and educational value to the public
  • Provide a national stage for promoting heritage tourism and recreation
Proposed Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary Summary Document. Courtesy of NOAA.

NOAA proposes the following regulations to protect underwater cultural and historical resources in the proposed sanctuary:

  • Prohibit moving, removing, recovering, altering, destroying, possessing or otherwise injuring a sanctuary resource
  • Prohibit possessing, selling, offering for sale, purchasing, importing, exporting, exchanging, delivering, carrying, transporting, or shipping by any means any sanctuary resource within or outside of the sanctuary
  • Prohibit grappling or anchoring on shipwreck sites
  • Prohibit deploying tethered underwater mobile systems at shipwreck sites without a permit
  • Prohibit interfering with an investigation

Moving forward, the public is still invited to partake and give input on the proposal. There are multiple ways to share your comments, with public meetings, virtual meetings and electronic options.

In-person meetings:

  • Tuesday, February 28, 2023, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. ET
    • Lake Ontario Event and Conference Center
      26 E. 1st St. Oswego, NY 13126
  • March 1, 2023, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. ET
    • Wolcott Elks Lodge No. 1763
    • 6161 W. Port Bay Rd Wolcott, NY 14590
  • March 2, 2023, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. ET
    • Jefferson Community College
    • 1220 Coffeen St., Sturtz Theater, Room 4-111, Watertown, NY 13601

Virtual meeting:


  • Submit all electronic public comments through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, The docket number is NOAA–NOS–2021–0050. Click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.


  • Ellen Brody
    Great Lakes Regional Coordinator
    4840 South State Road
    Ann Arbor, MI 48108–9719