Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is located in northwestern Lake Huron, adjacent to one of the most treacherous stretches of water within the Great Lakes system. Unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales, and rocky shoals earned the area the name "Shipwreck Alley." Today, the 448-square-mile Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary protects one of America's best-preserved and nationally-significant collections of shipwrecks. Fire, ice, collisions, and storms have claimed over 200 vessels in and around Thunder Bay. To date, more than 50 shipwrecks have been discovered within the sanctuary and an additional 30 wrecks have been located outside of the sanctuary boundaries. Although the sheer number of shipwrecks is impressive, it is the range of vessel types located in the sanctuary that makes the collection nationally significant. From an 1844 sidewheel steamer to a modern 500-foot-long German freighter, the shipwrecks of Thunder Bay represent a microcosm of maritime commerce and travel on the Great Lakes.
Northeastern Michigan's maritime landscape includes the hundreds of shipwrecks located on Lake Huron bottomlands. It also encompasses all of the cultural and natural features related to maritime heritage. Lifesaving stations, lighthouses, historic boats and ships, commercial fishing camps, docks, and working ports are among the more obvious historic and archaeological features. Many features are less visible and some remain unrecognized or unknown. Humans have used the waters of Thunder Bay and its shores for thousands of years. Geological and archaeological evidence suggests a high probability of prehistoric archaeological sites awaiting discovery. In addition to helping to protect and interpret individual sites, managing the sanctuary as a maritime cultural landscape reveals a broad historical canvas that can encompass many different perspectives to foster an interconnected understanding of the maritime past. The maritime cultural landscape allows Thunder Bay's maritime heritage to continue to unfold as new discoveries are made and encourages an increasingly diverse public to find shared meaning in this nationally and internationally significant place.
For over 12,000 years, people have traveled on the Great Lakes. From Native American dugout canoes to wooden sailing craft and steel freighters, thousands of ships have made millions of voyages across the Great Lakes. The last 150 years have been particularly explosive, transforming the region into one of the world's busiest waterways. Yet, with extraordinary growth comes adversity. Over 200 pioneer steamboats, majestic schooners, and huge steel freighters wrecked near Thunder Bay alone. Today, the sanctuary's shipwrecks capture dramatic moments from centuries that transformed America. As a collection, they illuminate an era of enormous growth and remind us of risks taken and tragedies endured. Lake Huron's cold, fresh water ensures that Thunder Bay's shipwrecks are among the best preserved in the world. Many sites remain virtually unchanged for over 150 years. With masts still standing, deck hardware in place, and the crews' personal possessions often surviving, sites located in deeper waters are true time capsules. Other shipwrecks lay well-preserved but broken up in shallower waters. Readily accessible by kayakers, snorkelers, and divers of all abilities, these sites often provide sanctuary users with their first shipwreck experience.
Cornelia D. Windiate (1874)
Thunder Bay's shipwrecks are magnificent, yet vulnerable. Natural processes and human impacts threaten the long-term sustainability of our underwater maritime heritage. Through research, education, and community involvement, the sanctuary works to protect our nation's historic shipwrecks for future generations. Protecting Thunder Bay's underwater treasures is a responsibility shared by the sanctuary, its many partners, and the public.
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary protects a nationally significant collection of shipwrecks and related maritime heritage resources. By fostering an understanding that our past connections to the Great Lakes and oceans are critical to our future, the sanctuary works to ensure that future generations will continue to experience and value Thunder Bay's irreplaceable underwater treasures.