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Depths of Lake Michigan honored as ‘marine sanctuary’

Posted at 4:49 PM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-14 17:16:40-04

Deep beneath the surface of Lake Michigan, there are stories just waiting to be told.

It's those stories that keep luring in underwater archaeologists like Caitlin Zant.

"Anything basically that used to be above water and is now underwater is underwater archaeology," she said.

Zant is a maritime archaeologist with the Wisconsin Historical Society.

She and her team are constantly looking at the bottom of Lake Michigan for clues about our past.

They find those clues on ships that never made it to their destination.


At the bottom of our great lake rest more than 700 shipwrecks.

Historical Society CEO Christian Overland said each one helps tell the story of how Milwaukee and Wisconsin grew.

"It's a fantastic bed of stories about how we arrived where we're living today, as far as commerce, people, transportation," Overland said.

Overland captains an effort to celebrate our state's past.

An effort that's getting global recognition in the shape of a new national marine sanctuary.

NOAA, the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, gives that designation to only the most special places underwater.

Wisconsin is now home to one of only 15 such sanctuaries in the country.

Others include the humpback whale habitat in Hawaii and the Florida Keys.

"It starts to give a national scope that it's there for people to come and visit. So we're looking to people coming from all over the world," Overland said.

The sanctuary is a 962 square mile area of Lake Michigan roughly from Port Washington on the south, to Two Rivers at the north.

Under all that water lay 36 known shipwrecks and the potential for 59 more.

Not to mention countless stories of bravery, tragedy, and loss.

"There's a ship called the Senator that has about 268 Nash automobiles on it," Overland said.

"It hit a big freighter, the Marquette coming down, so it sunk. All of those vehicles are perfectly preserved along with the ship in 450 feet of water."

Caitlin Zant says her divers have done amazing work documenting what's down there- a big reason why NOAA gave our lake this big distinction.

"So when we send people out to do these wrecks, we are doing a full recording project on these wrecks. It involves a lot of videos pictures, sometimes 3-D models," she said.

What comes next?

Christian Overland Hopes Lake Michigan will soon be a major tourist attraction, giving curious divers a reason to choose Wisconsin.

"Our archaeologists have been working to protect these and document them and disseminate this knowledge," he said. "Come and enjoy it."

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