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Conference promotes proposed marine sanctuary

Scuba diver photo at Wisconsin Maritime Museum, August 12, 2016 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

MANITOWOC (WLUK) -- Could a marine sanctuary be part of the future of the Lakeshore?

People at an environmental meeting in Manitowoc are promoting the idea.

An underwater scene can be so serene.

"People know Lake Michigan as a big source of fresh water. It's also a place where there are a lot of shipwrecks," said Rolf Johnson, Wisconsin Maritime Museum CEO.

The proposed National Marine Sanctuary would include 39 known shipwrecks. It would stretch 875-square miles under Lake Michigan from roughly Port Washington to Two Rivers.

"The ships are relatively accessible and you don't even have to be a diver. We have these vehicles, remotely operated, with video on them. We can actually send those down and people can look at the shipwrecks without even getting wet," said Johnson.

The proposed marine sanctuary was part of the third annual Lake Michigan Day, at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, in Manitowoc. On Friday, 95 people from state and federal environmental groups talked about concerns as well. Aquatic invasive species, farm run-off, and manure spreading topped the list.

"Certainly phosphorus and sediment loads remain one of our primary challenges in almost all of our watersheds. The Lower Fox River is now implementing a total maximum daily load policy. We are looking to launch one on the Manitowoc River, in the next year," said Jim Kettler, Lakeshore National Resource Partnership.

And in the coming months, the proposed marine sanctuary is in the hands of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA scientists will draft an environmental-impact statement, and release it to the public.

"And also create a draft-management plan so the public understands how this might operate. What it will look like. If the sanctuary is designated," said Russ Green, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Green says the federal designation will provide another layer of legal protection. Local leaders hope to cash in too.

"It does bring in a lot of tourists. We know people are fascinated with the lake, with the shipwrecks. So a lot of tourism dollars will be flooding into the area as well. We'll probably see a little bit of an uptick in the diving that occurs on the shipwrecks," said Johnson.

The approval process is ongoing. Officials say it could still take a couple of years before The Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary becomes a reality.

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