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Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

A place to discover our Great Lakes’ Maritime Heritage.

Thunder Bay shipwreck

Feel the Thunder

Did you know that NOAA manages a National Marine Sanctuary in the Great Lakes region? The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is headquartered in Alpena, Michigan, on the shores of Lake Huron.

Co-managed by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the State of Michigan, the sanctuary was designated in 2000 to protect and conserve the recreational, historical, and archaeological value of the region’s natural resources and maritime heritage.

Lake Huron’s cold, fresh water ensures that the nearly 100 historic shipwrecks that have been discovered in Thunder Bay are among the best preserved in the world. While research in the sanctuary focuses on understanding the region’s maritime cultural landscape, the sanctuary also participates in scientific research, from  real-time weather observations to artificial reefs and the complex micro-environment of submerged sinkholes.

Visiting Your Sanctuary

Since its inception, Thunder Bay NMS has played a significant role in the region’s economy by promoting tourism and recreation in northeast Michigan. To visit the historic town of Alpena, take Route 23 (the Huron Shores Heritage Route, also called the Sunrise Coast). On your way, you can stop to visit one or more of Lake Huron’s historic lighthouses.

When you reach Alpena, you can:

  • Visit the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center: Sanctuary offices are located adjacent to the center, which draws nearly 100,000 visitors annually. The facility features more than 10,000 square feet of interactive exhibits.
  • Hike the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail: The sanctuary worked with state and local partners to establish this fun and informative trail.
  • Tour “Shipwreck Alley” on a glass-bottom boat that boards right behind the sanctuary. Visitors can also take a first-hand look at the sanctuaries’ many shipwrecks through diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and boating.
  • Attend the Thunder Bay Maritime Festival: A celebration of all things nautical, the annual festival starts right after the Fourth of July parade in downtown Alpena.
  • Catch the Thunder Bay International Film Festival: In January 2015, more than 700 people attended the film festival. Film topics included climate change, Great Lakes issues, marine life, and plastics pollution.

Sanctuary Series

As a travel destination, few places on the planet can compete with the diversity of the National Marine Sanctuary System. This article is part of an ongoing series to highlight what you can see and do at some of our most iconic natural and cultural marine resources. Check out our other sanctuary stories:

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