Proposed Lake Ontario Marine Sanctuary Enters First Phase of Designation Process

A diver inspects the bow of Queen of the Lakes where the anchor remains in place. The Canadian schooner remains upright and intact with all three masts still standing after sinking with a cargo of coal off Sodus Bay in 1906. (Photo courtesy of Jill Heinerth.)

NOAA will hold public meetings in four counties in June

Proponents of the proposed Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary gathered in Oswego recently to celebrate a significant milestone in the lengthy process to designate a national marine sanctuary.

The federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a notice in the Federal Register Wednesday, April 17, stating its intent to conduct public scoping, which is the first step in the designation process to establish a maritime heritage sanctuary in the southeastern waters of Lake Ontario.

The initial application was submitted in 2017 by Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego and Jefferson counties and the City of Oswego to have the 1,700-square mile area designated as a marine sanctuary, based on the cultural and historic significance of the waters, including submerged shipwrecks and at least one submerged aircraft.



“I’m thrilled to join with Oswego County leaders, advocates, and members of the community today to announce that the Lake Ontario application has been selected by NOAA to move forward in the National Marine Sanctuary designation process,” said Rep. John Katko (NY-24).  “This designation has the potential to grow tourism and boost our local economy while preserving some of our region’s most historic and unique natural resources.  I now look forward to hearing community feedback as we move to the next step in this process and NOAA begins to conduct public meetings throughout our region.”

Letters of support endorsing the nomination were submitted by a diverse coalition of organizations and individuals at local, state, and regional levels, including elected officials, government agencies, a Native American tribe, historical societies, businesses, museums, and environmental, recreational, conservation, tourism, and education groups.

Oswego County Administrator Phil Church, who chaired the 4-county nomination task force, said the next steps in the process will be for NOAA to receive public input, gather additional data, prepare a draft environmental impact statement and develop a draft management plan for the proposed sanctuary. NOAA will conduct public meetings in June.

“This project evolved with bipartisan support of many levels of government, and with the support of businesses, museums and other interested parties,” said Church. “The purpose of the sanctuary is to protect and increase awareness of a nationally significant collection of shipwrecks, to foster partnerships with education and research groups, and to increase opportunities for tourism and recreation as part of the regional economy. The proposal does not include any new regulations on fishing, scuba diving, water quality, or commercial shipping and dredging.”

This map shows the proposed national marine sanctuary boundary and approximate locations of shipwrecks.


Within the nomination area there are 22 shipwrecks and one aircraft whose locations are known. The oldest date from the late 1700s. The historical record indicates that an additional 46 shipwrecks and two historic aircraft are likely within the nomination area.

According to NOAA, eastern Lake Ontario is considered one of the most historically significant regions in the Great Lakes. Lake Ontario has dominated maritime trade and transportation for centuries, beginning with early indigenous peoples. During the colonial period, the lake was a strategic theater of conflict among European powers and the young American republic. Later, this region was critical to the development of the American West and the nation’s industrial core.

NOAA will conduct public meetings to provide information and gather input on the proposed national marine sanctuary in June. Meetings will be:

  • Monday, June 10, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Fair Haven Fire Hall, 14447 Fair Haven Road, Sterling
  • Tuesday, June 11, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Emergency Operations Center, 7376 Route 31, Lyons
  • Wednesday, June 12, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Lake Ontario Conference Center, 26 E. First St., Oswego
  • Thursday, June 13, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Jefferson Community College, 1220 Coffeen St., Jules Center, Room 6-002, Watertown

People  may also comment online by going to the Federal eRulemaking Portal, Use docket number NOAA-NOS-2019-0032; or by mail by addressing comments to Ellen Brody, Great Lakes Regional Coordinator, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, 4840 South State Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48108. All comments must be submitted or postmarked by July 31.

Additional information is available online at:

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