Committee Recommends Support Of Application for National Marine Sanctuary

The stern of the Mary Kay is seen at its resting place off SUNY Oswego. Photo by Phil Church

The stern of the Mary Kay is seen at its resting place off SUNY Oswego. Photo by Phil Church

OSWEGO, NY – Last September, representatives of four Lake Ontario counties announced they are pursuing a nomination to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to nominate southeastern Lake Ontario as a National Marine Sanctuary. Representatives of Oswego, Jefferson, Cayuga and Wayne counties made the joint announcement.

This map depicts the proposed boundaries of the Great Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary.
This map depicts the proposed boundaries of the Great Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary.

National marine sanctuaries are designated by the federal government and are intended to increase responsible visitation and use of unique resources by visitors, anglers, divers, scientists, researchers, historians and educators. They are administered by the NOAA.

Since the announcement, several groups and agencies have pledged their support to the project. On Monday night, the Planning and Development Committee recommended the Port City join them.

“For the first time in nearly 20 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is accepting nominations to add new National Marine Sanctuaries to the 15 already established regions in the world,” said Phil Church, Oswego County Administrator and chair of the Nomination Task Force.

Southeastern Lake Ontario is eligible for consideration due to the age, type and preserved state of numerous historic shipwrecks and many other features.

“We are nearing the end of our almost two-year project. For our nomination to succeed, the process begins with community support,” Church said. “The city of Oswego is an important stakeholder in this undertaking. So, I am asking you to lend your voice to the project by providing a resolution of support that will be included in the nomination documents. If we are successful, we’ll be considered on par with the rest of the sites in the world.”

Among those sites are the Olympic Coast of Washington State, American Samoa in the Hawaiian Islands, the Florida Keys, the Civil War’s ironclad USS Monitor and Thunder Bay.

The joint application is based on the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan, where there have been significant economic benefits to the region. Alpena is a city of only 11,000 people and isn’t as centrally located as Oswego.

It’s estimated that Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary on Lake Huron annually generates in excess of $100 million to the regional economy and supports more than 1,500 jobs. The visitor center for Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a major tourism destination for the region, hosting approximately 60,000 visitors annually.

Church said last fall that he sees the NMS impact on this region being similar – if not greater.

The goal in seeking an NMS designation is to establish international recognition for the unique features of the region and increase economic, recreational, scientific research and educational activities.

The stern of the Mary Kay is seen at its resting place off SUNY Oswego. Photo by Phil Church
The stern of the Mary Kay is seen at its resting place off SUNY Oswego. Photo by Phil Church

This proposal would focus on submerged artifacts, such as shipwrecks and aircraft, Church explained.

“It doesn’t regulate commercial shipping or fishing or development along the shore. It is solely based on the artifacts on the bottom,” he said. “We see nothing but a win for this. Letters of support are starting to come in from around the region. We are at the phase where we are doing the final writing and editing on the nomination.”

They hope to submit the application by the end of May.

There will then be a 30-day review by NOAA, which may request additional information. If not, there will be a full 90-day review, Church said. And then NOAA would announce whether the application was accepted.

Church emphasized that “the term ‘sanctuary’ does not mean an off-limits preserve.  In this case, it means just the opposite – to promote and increase responsible visitation, understanding and appreciation of this unique area without interfering with the lake’s commercial and recreational activities.

The sanctuary could include Lake Ontario waters from the western boundary of Wayne County to the international border in Lake Ontario and east to Cape Vincent in Jefferson County.

NOAA would determine the boundaries during the review process, which will involve extensive public participation.

If approved by NOAA, the Great Lake Ontario NMS would be part of a collection of a very few spectacular natural settings in the U.S. stretching from the Olympic Coast of Washington State, to Lake Huron, Stellwagen Bank in Maine, the Florida Keys, and American Samoa in Hawaii.

Information about National Marine Sanctuaries is available at


  1. Getting this designation for our county would be a huge benefit for tourism in our region. I hope all the stakeholders show their support. Thank you for all the hard work of Phil Church and the county tourism department I believe that NOAA could give our county this designation.

    Now if Fort Ontario gets to become a Federal Park our beautiful Oswego County will be know throughout the country. What a win win combination.

  2. Another tourism destination (albeit under water!). NYS lost manufacturing, but it COULD easily be a leader in tourism!!! We have two waterways, and four seasons (some all in the same day). THIS site for scuba diving can only help promote the region!!!

  3. People are losing jobs left and right and we are looking to make a scuba diving area. Just how many scuba divers are there in Oswego county? What types of jobs will this bring to the area and how will this lower my Taxes and Water Bill. How will this help the School district. I know we can now add a course in Scuba diving . Keep up the good work.

  4. In answer to ‘Still Watching,’ … got any better ideas? We aren’t NECESSARILY going to attract scuba divers from within the county (only). Scuba sites and deep water diving is popular in the same way sailing/fishing/visiting lighthouses/etc., as other tourism activities. And, you’d be surprised how many marine historians there are nation-wide. IF we have something to offer them…they may come.

    However, mostly, what other ideas do you have? My suspicion is that the individual who wrote this ‘shops cheap,’ and doesn’t understand that when we spend our money outside Oswego County, with little or no manufacturing, we ONLY HAVE TOURISM, translation: Sales Tax, as another way to defray our property taxes.
    Almost no one gets that when they shop in Clay or Destiny, or online…we NEED local sales tax. BRING tourists here, and it’s not even OUR paychecks that pay these taxes!

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