NOAA 2002-114
Contact: Glenda Tyson
8 /28/02
NOAA News Releases 2002
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NOAA, the State of Michigan and the Institute for Exploration Team-Up in Search
for Shipwrecks in Thunder Bay

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries (HAL) will continue a unique collaboration with Robert Ballard (discoverer of the Titanic, PT109) and his scientific team from the Institute for Exploration (IFE) in a mission to explore and document NOAA's Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve off the coast of Alpena, Mich.

Using IFE’s Little Hercules, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the Thunder Bay Exploration 2002 expedition team will collect video and still images of known and newly discovered shipwrecks located in last year’s expedition. NOAA, HAL and IFE are focusing on Thunder Bay because of its high concentration of wrecks that span more than a century of maritime history.

“Preserved by the waters on which they served, these vessels offer a look back in time when steamers and schooners ruled the Great Lakes,” said Jeff Gray, Thunder Bay sanctuary manager. “Our work with IFE will not only provide information about our maritime past, but it will help us ensure that these sites are preserved for future generations.”

In June 2001, NOAA and IFE used sidescan sonar technology to search for the deepwater shipwrecks in the sanctuary. Of these targets, 11 are known shipwrecks and three are unidentified wrecks. The team hopes work this season will help identify these sites. It will also investigate limestone sinkholes that may reveal important artifacts and evidence of human habitation by Paleo-Indians during low lake levels 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.

“Many Americans don’t even know that we have national marine sanctuaries,” said Dr. Ballard. “We are working with NOAA and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (NMSF) to change that. We are going to explore these sites, as we have so many other important sites around the world. Thunder Bay offers a unique set of possibilities and challenges and opportunities.”

This expedition is a continuation of the collaboration between NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program, Mystic Aquarium and IFE (located in Mystic, Conn.), including this summer’s launch of the Immersion Institute in Mystic, which is the first-ever live video feed from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to the Mystic campus. This program enables visitors to view the underwater world of the Monterey Sanctuary real-time, and is the first of the sanctuaries to be wired.

“This is simply a tremendous opportunity for our state and, really, the entire Midwest,” said Dr. William Anderson, director of the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries. “Thunder Bay is brimming with history and untold stories about the mighty ships that traveled these waters. This sanctuary gives us a chance to preserve, research and understand those stories.”

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve was designated in October 2000 to protect a nationally significant collection of underwater cultural resources. Thunder Bay is the 13th national marine sanctuary and only the second sanctuary to focus solely on the protection of historic shipwrecks. Based on historical records, the sanctuary estimates that 116 shipwrecks lie within the 448-square-mile boundary, although thus far only 40 have been located. The sanctuary is co-managed by NOAA and the state of Michigan. For more information about the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve, visit

The National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, 13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources. In addition, the National Marine Sanctuary Program is in the process of designating the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve as a sanctuary.

NOAA’s Ocean Service (NOAA Ocean Service) manages the National Marine Sanctuary Program and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation’s coasts and oceans. NOS balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards. To learn more about NOS and the National Marine Sanctuary Program, please visit

The Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries (HAL) has five key agencies dedicated to the mission of enriching residents’ quality of life by providing access to information, preserving and promoting Michigan’s heritage and fostering cultural creativity. The Michigan Historical Center is the lead agency working with the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. HAL’s other four agencies include the Library of Michigan, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, and the Michigan Film Office. For more information about HAL, please visit

NOTE TO EDITORS: Expedition scientists and Thunder Bay representatives are available for interview. B-roll and stills of the expedition are also available.