Incredible 'ghost fleet' site could become national marine sanctuary

An incredible site in the Potomac River, which is home to the “Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay”, has been nominated as a national marine sanctuary.

The 14-square mile area of the tidal Potomac River adjacent to Charles County, Md. is home to a bewildering number of shipwrecks. The wrecks include nearly 200 known vessels spanning from the Revolutionary War through the present, and include the remains of the largest “Ghost Fleet” of World War I wooden steamships built for the U.S. Emergency Fleet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The ships were burned and scuttled in Mallows Bay in 1925.

Related: Navy divers raising armored wreckage of Confederate warship CSS Georgia in 5-ton chunks

With public comment on the designation starting Wednesday, experts have highlighted the importance of the proposed Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary.

“It is one of the richest maritime archaeological concentrations in our nation, indeed a national treasure in the process of being discovered,” wrote Maritime Historian and Archaeologist Donald Shomette, in an email to “Should it achieve sanctuary status, it will become a living laboratory of unparalleled uniqueness combining both nature in the raw with the grand sweep of American history itself, for all Americans to visit, enjoy, study and learn from.”

Largely undeveloped, Mallows Bay has been identified as one of the most ecologically valuable waterscapes in Maryland, with NOAA noting that the ship remains provide an important habitat for fish and wildlife. Mallows Bay is also a popular site for kayaking and bass fishing.

“This section of the Potomac River contains unique and nationally significant historical, cultural, ecological, and recreational resources,” wrote Charlie Stek, chair of the Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary Steering Committee, in an email to “Designating this section of the Potomac as a National Marine Sanctuary offers outstanding opportunities to educate and engage the public, and particularly our youth, in our nation’s rich maritime and cultural history.”

Stek added that the Mallows Bay site would become the first sanctuary designated in America’s largest estuary and serve as a lasting commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the country’s entry into World War I in 2017.

Related: Hull of Confederate sub, first in history to sink enemy warship, revealed

In September 2014 the state of Maryland submitted a nomination for Mallows Bay to be to be added to NOAA’s inventory of places to be considered as national marine sanctuaries. Mallows Bay was listed on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year.

America’s waterways contain a fascinating array of archaeological artifacts. Earlier this year, for example, Navy divers began raising armored wreckage of the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia from the Savannah River in Georgia. The hull of the H.L. Hunley, a Confederate vessel that made history when it became the first submarine to sink an enemy warship, was also cleaned and revealed this year.

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