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NOAA to designate Wisconsin coastline as national sanctuary

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Federal officials have designated a huge swath of Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan coastline as a National Marine Sanctuary to protect historic shipwrecks in the area, Gov. Tony Evers’ office announced Tuesday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will publish regulations designating 962 square miles from Kewaunee County south to Ozaukee County as a sanctuary, Evers’ office said.

The designation will protect 36 shipwrecks, 21 of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Evers’ office says research suggests the area may include as many as 60 additional shipwrecks.

The designation is subject to congressional and gubernatorial review. Evers said his administration is “really excited” about the designation, according to comments posted on NOAA’s website.

The shipwreck sanctuary would become the 15th marine sanctuary NOAA has established. The network encompasses more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. Then-Gov. Scott Walker nominated the Lake Michigan area as a sanctuary in 2014 but rescinded it in 2018 amid fears of federal overreach. Evers petitioned NOAA in 2019 to renew the nomination.

Boats would be prohibited from anchoring on shipwrecks in the sanctuary and the sanctuary could draw tourists to the area, but beyond that the designation appears to have little practical effect. Sanctuary status doesn’t carry any restrictions on commercial or recreational fishing and wouldn’t affect shipping lanes, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Sarah Hoye said.

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