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Sanctuaries: The Underwater Museum (Part 5)

Often shipwrecks are protected by sanctuaries - special places where all the objects and the ocean life, within its boundaries,  are protected. Not unlike a museum, you can visit a sanctuary where ancient civilizations and history come to life.


There is good news for people that want to protect the oceans. And that is marine protected areas, but in particular, in the United States, it’s National Marine Sanctuaries. Sanctuaries were created specially to preserve, to protect, and to share why they’re important with the rest of the country. These areas are all very important because inside them, they protect not only coral reefs, and fish populations, or the migration routes of whales or sharks, they also protect thousands of shipwrecks. These wrecks are protected and they sit in a way as exhibits in an undersea museum.

At Thunder Bay, hundreds of shipwrecks, almost perfectly preserved by the cold fresh waters of Lake Huron, are available for divers to explore and to dive in while the maritime heritage center back at the sanctuary’s headquarters in Alpena, Michigan, gives visitors on land a chance to see what these ships are all about. Why they’re important, what they look like, how they went to the bottom, and the people’s stories associated with them.

On the west coast of California, we’re working now to document more of these shipwrecks and discover wrecks that the history books or old newspapers say to us are out there, but we haven’t yet seen or put our eyes on them. So over the last few years we’ve discovered a few of those wrecks, and most recently we found a wreck that wasn’t supposed to be there at all. It was a ship that had sailed out and disappeared almost a hundred years ago. It still remained undiscovered and one of the top mysteries of the ocean. Until a regular survey of Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, we found a shipwreck, and as we looked at it and examined it, it turned out to be this long-missing ship with fifty-six crew.

So not only were we able to solve a mystery, not only were we able to say this is a very important wreck sitting here and protected in this sanctuary, but we were able to reach out to the families of those fifty-six men and say, after ninety-five years, we know where your grandfather, your great-uncle, your cousins - we know where they are. They’re at peace resting at the bottom of the sea, in a shipwreck that is now full of marine life. It is their grave, but it is also part of a rich and important marine sanctuary that has been set aside to protect such things. Not only do I think that gave these families some closure, an opportunity to say, “at last I know what happened,” but also some satisfaction, that we’re looking out for these guys, as we do so many other things in the marine sanctuaries system.