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At the end of March 2017, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration took a major step toward declaring a 1,000 square mile stretch of Lake Michigan north of Milwaukee as a National Marine Sanctuary, a recognition of how important this area is to Wisconsin culturally, scientifically, and recreationally.

Proposed Wisconsin-Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary

In October of 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), announced that it intends to designate a new national marine sanctuary right here in Wisconsin, along Lake Michigan, stretching from the Milwaukee-Ozaukee county border up to either the northern portion of Manitowoc County (in NOAA’s primary proposal), or up to the northern border of Kewaunee County (in its alternate proposal). These proposals cover 1,075 to 1,260 square miles of Lake Michigan, encompassing 37-38 known shipwrecks, with a potential of up to 95 shipwrecks. The public comment period of this proposal ended March 31, and the NOAA is expected to finalize its proposal in the coming months.

The idea behind a National Marine Sanctuary is the preservation of the ecosystem of a particular area of water, so that it can be used for scientific study, education, and recreation, akin to creating a marine National Park. For Milwaukeeans, this would be an area close to home where one can be sure that the areas where they camp along the lake are kept pristine, that fishing and boating take place on the cleanest water possible, and that the historic old shipwrecks will still be there to explore. Designating this area as a marine sanctuary does not prevent fishing, but rather is meant to stop overfishing, as well as anything majorly disruptive to the lake ecosystem in the covered areas. For Milwaukee scientists, this would be a major boon, as our own School of Freshwater Sciences at UW-Milwaukee would have a part of Lake Michigan close to campus where they could study our great lake as it should be.

The National Marine Sanctuary program is an important recognition of waters of the United States as being important aesthetically, culturally, scientifically, and ecologically. Our current National Marine Sanctuaries encompass some of the most incredibly beautiful, diverse, and scientifically valuable environments, from Monterey Bay in California, Papahanaumokuakea in Hawaii, and the Florida Keys. Our part of Lake Michigan would be recognized as one of these crown jewels of the nation, and as a resource that we should treasure and share with our children and grandchildren alike.

Written by John Uhrig for the Milwaukee Area Science Advocates (MASA)

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