A historic part of New York state is receiving a rare honor, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a 1,700-mile area of Lake Ontario has been designated as the 16th National Marine Sanctuary in the world. This is based on the historical significance of its waters.

Those involved in the process discussed what the special classification means for New York state. 

Lake Ontario's rich history has helped shape the state into what it is today. The LT-5, an iconic World War II Army tugboat that served in combat on D-Day and has since served on Lake Ontario. The designation as a National Marine Sanctuary will help preserve and discover more iconic history under the waters. 

“It recognizes our area as a special and unique place based on the quality and number of historic shipwrecks in the area,” Oswego County Administrator Philip Church said.

The history of Lake Ontario dates back thousands of years to when the first regional inhabitants, the ancestors of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, populated the area.

“When the British and the French came and saw all the great resources that were here and the strategic area, because, of course, people traveled by water, this was just an important region to fight over,” said Mercedes Niess, executive director of the H. Lee White Maritime Museum.

While the lake’s sanctuary designation will help preserve history, it can also benefit the state in other ways.

“It really enhances our ability – and NOAA's ability – as we work together with them, to improve economies and bring new opportunities for education,” Church said, referring to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The area includes 41 known shipwrecks and one aircraft dating back to the 1700s. The attention the designation brings puts a spotlight on the state tourist attraction and could help the economy.

(Courtesy of NOAA)

“It will garner interest all over," Niess said. "And people will come here. They will visit New York. They will visit upstate New York. They will visit, you know, one of the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario.”

“Tourism isn't the only economic factor in this," Church said. "As I mentioned, SUNY Oswego is creating a Great Lakes Institute. So it also can bring in research dollars through university collaborations around the world.”

NOAA will use its expertise to further locate, research and monitor these and other maritime cultural resources.

“I think the impact will be in the information and the knowledge and the appreciation for what went on before us,” Niess said.
Church added, “Creating educational opportunities for our youth, creating experiences for youth that may lead them into maritime careers.”

NOAA and its local and state partners will hold a community celebration of the sanctuary on September 6.