A view of Lake Michigan from a park near Point Washington, Wisconsin. (CC/Freekee)
MANITOWOC, Mich., Sept. 2 (UPI) -- The Great Lakes currently hosts only one marine sanctuary, the Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan. But Lake Michigan could get another sanctuary, as several Wisconsin communities along the western side of the lake are applying for the federal designation.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency which grants the designation, is expecting an application from the lakeside communities sometime this fall. If the marine-sanctuary status is granted, more than 875 square miles of water along Lake Michigan's western shoreline could be protected -- an area that features 33 known shipwrecks and stretches from Port Washington in the south to Manitowoc and Two Rivers in the north.
Local officials hope the designation, which offers stronger protections for the water's ecological and cultural integrity, could help keep their part of the lake healthier and boost tourism in eastern Wisconsin. Alpena's sanctuary and accompanying visitors center attracts 80,000 people every year.
"If successful, this will lead to increased research on these wrecks, as well as creating tourism and educational opportunities for sport divers, students and the general public," Jason Ring, president of the Manitowoc Area Visitor & Convention Bureau, told local HTR News.
"A marine sanctuary in Manitowoc would allow our citizens and visitors to experience the power and beauty of Lake Michigan and protect its rich maritime history through research, education and resource protection while enhancing our pride in Manitowoc's maritime heritage," said Justin Nickels, the mayor in Manitowoc.
Though a sanctuary request could be on the desks of NOAA officials in the coming weeks, it will take some time before NOAA officials are able to vet the applicants.
Earlier this year, President Obama used his executive powers to create the largest marine sanctuary in the world, expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from 87,000 square miles of protected marine habitat to nearly 782,000 square miles.