NOAA 2001-063
Contact: David Miller


Noted underwater explorer Robert Ballard of the Institute for Exploration, will partner with the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of Michigan in June to map many of the estimated 116 shipwrecks in NOAA's new Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve in Lake Huron.

Ballard's Institute for Exploration, based in Mystic, Conn., is partnering with NOAA and the state to use sidescan sonar to survey and map the deepwater shipwrecks in the 448-square mile sanctuary/preserve. To date, fewer than 40 of the estimated 116 shipwrecks have been discovered there.

Ballard, discoverer of the Titanic in 1985, is the founder and president of IFE, a non-profit institution devoted to deep-sea archaeological research. IFE's current programs focus on the themes of human history, natural history in deep environments, and underwater vehicle development.

"This is the first snapshot in the bigger picture of mapping, exploring and ultimately managing the many resources of the sanctuary/preserve," explained Dan Basta, director of NOAA's office of National Marine Sanctuaries. "The fact that Ballard's Institute for Exploration is conducting the sanctuary's inaugural project speaks volumes about the significance of these shipwrecks that lie beneath the surface of Thunder Bay."

"I'm pleased to welcome Ballard and The Institute for Exploration to the Great Lakes state. This is the first step towards rediscovering our maritime heritage and an exciting beginning to our partnership with NOAA," said Michigan Governor John Engler.

The Thunder Bay survey will run from June 8-22, when IFE will collect data around the clock, weather permitting. IFE will use its new custom-designed underwater tow sled, known as ECHO, to collect sidescan sonar data. ECHO will be cable connected and towed by the R/V Lake Guardian, a 180-foot U.S. Environmental Protection Agency vessel from Milwaukee. Sound waves from the sonar tow sled travel through the water until hitting an object on the lake bottom. The waves bounce back to the tow sled, creating a picture of what the bottom "looks" like. Approximately one-third of the sanctuary/preserve will be covered this summer.

The summer's project is the first phase in mapping the entire sanctuary/preserve. Future phases involve completing the mapping and exploring potential new shipwreck discoveries either by diving or using a remotely operated vehicle. The Thunder Bay project is also being supported by NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration, a new program of exploration and discovery of the oceans and Great Lakes.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve was designated in October 2000 to protect a nationally significant collection of underwater cultural resources. The mission of the National Marine Sanctuary System is to conserve, protect and enhance the biodiversity, ecological integrity, and/or cultural legacy of selected marine and Great Lakes areas.

Ballard has been involved in numerous high-profile marine archaeological expeditions including discoveries of the largest concentration of ancient Roman ships ever found in the deep sea; the oldest ships ever found in the deep sea, two Phoenician ships from the 9th century B.C.; and a highly preserved 1500-year-old wooden ship in the anoxic waters of the Black Sea.

For more information on the Thunder Bay Sanctuary/Preserve and the National Marine Sanctuary System, visit

For information on the Institute for Exploration, visit

For more information on national marine sanctuaries visit,