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The Great Lakes have provided transportation for Michigan's inhabitants for hundreds of years. Thousands of vessels from canoes to car ferries and steamers to modern ore boats have sailed these "inland seas" and unknown numbers still remain - settled on the lakes bottom in watery graves. They lie in shallow water and in the deepest reaches of Michigan's 38,000 square miles of the Great Lakes bottomlands.
An estimated 6,000 vessels were lost on the Great Lakes with approximately 1,500 of these ships located in Michigan waters. These are unique resources.
The history of Michigan can be traced by the material records of its shipwrecks. They are a wood and steel chronicle of the history of naval architecture on the lakes. The pilings of thousands of abandoned docks tell of a time when transport by water was as important as transport by land. Skin and scuba divers from across the United States come to explore these shipwrecks preserved by the cold, fresh water of the Great Lakes.
The cold fresh water of the Great Lakes keeps wrecks exceptionally preserved even after decades underwater. However, special care must be taken to ensure that these resources remain for generations to come.
More than just shipwrecks...
Shipwrecks and other underwater cultural resources, such as aircraft, prehistoric sites, piers, wharves and other structures, are valuable and non-renewable. More than just shipwrecks, these resources are irreplaceable records of our cultural history. The State of Michigan manages shipwrecks as public trust resources to protect them for divers, archaeologists, and future generations to explore, study and enjoy.
Shipwrecks & non-divers
Shipwrecks are publicly owned resources that are important to divers and non-divers alike. Museum exhibits, maritime heritage associations, park interpretive programs, television documentaries and school educational programs provide access for the non-diver to enjoy these resources. In addition, technologies such as Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVS) and the internet allow people to view shipwreck sites without getting wet.
Shipwrecks and the law
Protecting underwater cultural resources preserves them as an element of our history and for the enjoyment of our future generations. Sport divers, dive clubs and other dive related organizations requested the Michigan legislature to pass a law that preserves and protects these resources.
Part 761, Aboriginal Records and Antiquities, 1994 PA 451 as amended, is administered jointly by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Department of State. This law authorizes preserving abandoned property (shipwrecks, etc.) on the bottomlands of the Great Lakes, designating underwater preserves, issuing salvage permits when appropriate, and for fines and penalties for illegally removing, altering, or destroying artifacts. The law does not restrict searching for, diving on or photographing shipwrecks.
You can report illegal removal, alteration or destruction of shipwrecks and associated artifacts by calling the Department of Natural Resources' Hotline at: 800-292-7800.
Recognizing the importance of protecting these resources for divers and non-divers alike, Great Lakes divers have fostered a dive ethic:
"Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles."