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Environment

NOAA begins public input meetings for Lake Ontario marine sanctuary

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Proposed boundaries for a National Marine Sanctuary along Lake Ontario

Four years after officials from central and northern New York submitted a nomination to make Lake Ontario a national marine sanctuary, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has drafted a plan to make this dream a reality.

“We’re so excited about really the developments that have happened over the last year or more now to get us to this point,” said Bill Crist, a resident of Onondaga County and one of 15 members of the advisory council who are guiding the development of the project. “I don’t want to say we’re heading to the finish line, but we’re clearly advancing in that direction.”

The plan proposes two potential boundaries for the sanctuary. One option calls for just the eastern part of Lake Ontario along Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego, and Jefferson counties. Option two would expand that area into the St. Lawrence River to include part of the Thousand Islands. Both proposals would encompass more than 1,700 square miles and cover dozens of known shipwrecks. Crist said either plan would fundamentally transform the area as there are currently only 15 national marine sanctuaries in the country and only two in the Great Lakes region.

"I think it brings awareness to the eastern Lake Ontario region and looking at how historic shipwrecks really have contributed to the creation existence and future of our country,” He said.

According to Crist, some community members have expressed concern about how the proposed marine sanctuary could limit existing fishing, boating, shipping, and scuba diving activities. But the plan said any effects would be minimal, like requiring boats to tie to moorings rather than drop their anchor in certain parts of the water.

“The area that the sanctuary protects is really the water and the area that exists exactly where the wreck is lying, so you talk about over 1,700 square miles but in reality it’s a very small area.”

On the flip side, NOAA estimates significant beneficial impacts from the designation, including protection of these underwater resources and increased investment in the area from research activities and tourism.

Although Crist said the marine sanctuary could be designated as soon as next year, the project is far from complete. Officials plan to incorporate the feedback they get over the next month into the next phase.