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NOAA Unveils New Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary

Jun 5, 2024

A note from Bob Provost: 

Many of our members had already heard about the efforts to create a National Marine Sanctuary (New York's first) along New York's Lake Ontario coastline at the 2023 New York State Tourism Conference in Oswego. We are delighted to share that last week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officially designated the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary
Oswego County Administrator Phil Church graciously agreed to share these comments with NYSTIA colleagues:

"After 10 years, its tempting to think of today as a climax, as a culminating reward, as an ending. But that’s not how we think. Now the truly rewarding effort begins as our local communities begin working in partnership with federal and state agencies to realize the sanctuary’s promise. The education and understanding, the research and collaboration, the economic opportunities, and the adventures… it all lies before us. Not the end. It’s just the beginning of the great Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary!"

- Phil Church, Oswego County Administrator

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced today the designation of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary as the 16th sanctuary in a system of underwater parks that encompasses 620,000 square miles of ocean and Great Lakes waters.

“We’re excited to celebrate this day,” said Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup. “This designation marks an incredible achievement for Oswego County and its partners – one that will benefit all of our Lake Ontario communities through economic development and heritage preservation as well as increased tourism and educational opportunities. I am proud to accept this designation and look forward to the successful impacts it will have on our region.”

In 2017, following three years of research and development, Oswego County and neighboring Cayuga, Jefferson and Wayne counties and the City of Oswego partnered to submit a nomination bid to NOAA for the designation of a 1,700-square mile area as a national marine sanctuary based on the cultural and historical significance of its waters.

“The designation of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary is important, not only for its heritage, but for the cooperative effort that led us here,” said Oswego County Administrator Philip Church, chair of the sanctuary nomination task force. “It represents 10 years of tireless work by NOAA and state staff, public officials and civic organizations, and dedicated private citizens who volunteered countless hours to help bring this designation to fruition.

“Now, the truly rewarding effort begins as our local communities, together with state and federal agencies, work to fulfill the educational, economic, research and conservational potential of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary,” he added. “I’m looking forward to our continued collaboration as we build upon this moment.”

The designation of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary recognizes Lake Ontario as a truly unique and incredible resource – from its early history as a primary maritime trade and transportation route, to its strategic position during times of conflict in the colonial period, to its vital role as the gateway to upper lake trade, westward migration and the development of the U.S. interior.

“The Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary is one of the most historically significant regions in the Great Lakes and North America,” said William Crist, chairman of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Committee. “This designation enhances the rich nautical history of Eastern Lake Ontario and brings much deserved worldwide recognition to our area. With today’s announcement, we increase our focus on bringing awareness and protection to this unique heritage, fostering education and research, and expanding opportunities for tourism and recreation.”

There are many nationally significant shipwrecks located in Lake Ontario and at least one known aircraft. However, the historical record indicates that more than 40 shipwrecks and two historic aircraft are also likely within its boundaries. Of those known shipwrecks, the St. Peter is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the David W. Mills is New York State’s only Submerged Cultural Preserve and Dive Site in its Great Lakes.

National marine sanctuaries are underwater areas that include archaeological sites, reefs, kelp forests, and deep-sea canyons that are considered unique special places. Similar to national parks on the land, marine sanctuaries serve to protect and conserve historically significant shipwrecks or unique environments, while promoting sustainable public use and access. The 16 national marine sanctuaries in the U.S. encompass a variety of marine environments such as Thunder Bay shipwrecks in Lake Huron, coral reefs off the Florida Keys, and the Olympic Coast’s kelp forests in Washington State.

The Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary is designed to enhance public access and activities on the lake. There are no new restrictions on sportfishing, scuba diving, boating, water quality, commercial shipping or dredging.

To learn more about the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary, go to

Watch a video introducing the National Marine Sanctuary.