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The Great Lakes surrounding Michigan provided a blue-water highway for trade, transportation and commerce long before Europeans arrived in North America. They were essential to Michigan lumbering, mining and industry, but shoals, storms and human error could bring disaster to ships and their crews. Today, the lakes’ cold, fresh waters preserve hundreds of shipwrecks — time capsules waiting to be explored by divers, kayakers and snorkelers.
In 1980, Michigan adopted laws protecting the shipwrecks on its Great Lakes bottomlands in order to ensure that they remain for future generations to study and enjoy. It also created a system of volunteer-managed Underwater Preserves. Today there are thirteen preserves around the state. One, Thunder Bay, was designated a National Marine Sanctuary in 2000.
All the preserves invite you to explore with your eyes and leave with your pictures and memories. To bring up anything else, or move anything, without a permit is to break the law.
For those who prefer to stay dry, there are glass-bottom boat tours, museums and interpretive trails with the dramatic and sometimes tragic stories of sailors and their ships.
The shorelines of the Great Lakes around Michigan are considerably more eroded than in recent decades because of record high lake water levels. Consequently, cultural materials including shipwrecks, parts of historic vessels, artifacts, abandoned docks, pilings, maritime landscapes and prehistoric objects that had been buried in sediments or located in shallow water, are now exposed. The objects are now more accessible to researchers, but are also more susceptible to natural deterioration and human activities.
As the lakes continue to rise, brief windows of opportunity exist to locate and archaeologically document these shoreline features. Citizen scientists and volunteers now have the ability to assist the State of Michigan in surveying its Great Lakes coastlines with the objective of locating the positions of cultural materials, photographing and recording preliminary observations of exposed materials, and compiling collected data for further assessment and public dissemination.
If you believe you've found a shipwreck or materials from a shipwreck, use the form below to document and report your discovery.