Lakes are popular tourist destinations, but not usually for what’s below the surface.

Do you know there are more than 60 shipwrecks at the bottom of the eastern portion of Lake Ontario, representing more than 200 years of history?

It may soon be designated as a National Marine Sanctuary because of this reason.

An early draft proposal from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was released earlier this month.

Congressman John Katko has been advocating for this potential national recognition.

Katko said, “It could be a haven for divers and tourists.” “There are, I believe, less than 20 marine sanctuaries in the country, so getting that designation would be significant.”

There are proposed underwater national parks in Wayne County, known for its Sodus Point lakefront.

Wayne County’s historian says the project has been in the works for 20 years and will have significant economic impacts.

According to the NOAA draft, the proposed Lake Ontario project has a few budget options
It is possible for the National Marine Sanctuary to require up to $1 million in annual costs to pay for staff, research, public outreach, and more.

“The budget for the sanctuary will be contingent on several factors, including the overall operational and construction budgets for ONMS as determined by Congress, and spending priorities determined by ONMS and NOAA.”

Some people are against it.

“I think the benefits are fairly minimal,” said local shipwreck explorer Jim Kennard.

Over the past 50 years, Kennard of Fairport has explored local shipwrecks using some of his own homemade sonar equipment. There has already been a lot of research done, he says.

“They want to conduct a second survey of the entire area, and again, that is going to cost millions of dollars. We have already completed it, sonar professionals,” he said.

He says the number of recreational diving sites for shipwrecks in the designated area is about 6, calling it minimal compared to other sites in the country (Alpena, Michigan) which have 80 recreational diving spots. Moreover, he says, shipwrecks are hardly of interest to a large number of people these days.

I was doing about 30 presentations a year, now it’s down to probably less than six. This shows a decline in interest in shipwrecks.”

In August, there will be four public information sessions, two of which will be virtual.

The sanctuary nomination began as a community-based initiative and will continue to be locally driven. It was first submitted in 2017 by Oswego, Jefferson, Cayuga and Wayne counties.

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