Mallows Bay Header Art, Photo coutesy of Darryl Bird

The Mallows Bay Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary Nomination

CCS and partners in Maryland working to protect the "Ghost Fleet" of Mallows Bay

Ghost ship in Mallows Bay, photo courtesy of Darryl Byrd

For 40 years, the United States national marine sanctuaries have worked to protect sites ranging from a Civil War shipwreck to coral reefs and tiny atolls. On June 13, 2014 NOAA announced that the American public can, again, begin nominating nationally significant marine and Great Lakes areas as potential new national marine sanctuaries.

The announcement was made by John Podesta, counselor to President Obama, during the 2014 Capitol Hill Ocean Week. The community-based nomination process responds to numerous requests for new sanctuaries from interested communities and stakeholders around the country. According to NOAA, this announcement will not result in the automatic designation of any new national marine sanctuaries. However, the nomination process will result in an inventory of areas NOAA will consider for national marine sanctuary designation, taking into account input and support from various local, regional and national interests and organizations. Consideration also will be based on a proposed area's national significance and the feasibility of managing it.

The National Marine Sanctuary System was established in 1972 to recognize and promote the conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, research or aesthetic values of special areas of the marine environment. The existing network is comprised of 14 sites from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Atlantic coast through the far-Pacific. It totals more than 170,000 square miles – more than all of the National Parks combined. Click here for National Marine Sanctuary FAQs.

Status of the Nomination

Mitch Zeissler exploratorius Mallows Bay

Mallows Bay is well-positioned to be the first National Marine Sanctuary in the Chesapeake Bay region. The Sanctuary designation represents the finest in marine resource protection and proactive public engagement. Bringing this to the Chesapeake region focuses national attention and provides a new catalyst for conservation, education, public access and tourism. The Chesapeake and Coastal Service, Charles County, and numerous other partners submitted a nomination of Mallows Bay as the newest National Marine Sanctuary on September 16, 2014. Click here to view the nomination.
On January 12, 2015 NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries completed its sufficiency and significance reviews and determined that the nomination met the national significance criteria and management considerations. The Mallows Bay nomination was the first nomination successfully added to the inventory of areas NOAA may consider for designation.

If NOAA determines that Mallows Bay is worthy of designation as a National Marine Sanctuary, then they will issue a “Notice of Intent” to move to the next phase of the designation process. This would initiate a full public procedure and Environmental Impact Statement – a critical step in the process for designating Mallows Bay as a new National Marine Sanctuary.

Why Mallows Bay?

Wildlife on remains of ghost ship, photo courtesy of Darryl Byrd

Mallows Bay is situated 30 miles from Washington D.C. along the tidal Lower Potomac River off the Nanjemoy Peninsula of Charles County, Maryland. This shallow embayment, and the waters immediately adjacent, boasts the largest assemblage of shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere, known as the “Ghost Fleet” of Mallows Bay.

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson issued a national call to arms against Imperial Germany. What followed in the United States was a frenzied effort to build 1,000 wooden merchant ships in 18 months, as part of the greatest shipbuilding campaign in history, to replace those of America’s allies being destroyed in Germany’s campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare. Under the newly created U.S. Shipping Board, the Emergency Fleet Corporation embarked on a course that, in the span of the following pivotal years of American history, came to exhibit mankind’s genius, ignorance, avarice, drive—and folly. In the process, the United States emerged as the greatest shipbuilding nation in world history.

Today, the largest extant remnants of that fleet, 100 wooden and composite steamships built during and immediately after the war, representing the product of 58 shipyards in 16 states from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts of America, still rests on the shallow floor of the Potomac River at and near Mallows Bay, Maryland.

Wildlife on remains of ghost ship, photo courtesy of Darryl Byrd

In Mallows Bay, theses World War I-era vessels, as well as scores of others dating from the American Revolution onward, including extinct indigenous Chesapeake Tidewater sailing craft as well as other vessel types from many states, represents one of the most unique maritime archaeological environments in the world. Also contained within this region are the physical remnants of one of the most unique industrial ship-breaking undertakings in American history, and nineteenth century commercial fisheries operations, as well as Native-American, colonial, and Civil War terrestrial sites.

Mallows Bay is currently under consideration for listing on the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).  Click here to view the full NHRP application.

Mallows Bay may be considered one of the most unique time capsules of American maritime history in one discrete location in the nation. This area is also home to a diverse ecosystem whose synergy with the shipwrecks attracts recreational fishing and the beginnings of an ecotourism industry. Charles County and the State of MD continue to work to expand access to this area, while protecting the assets and promoting sustainable ecotourism.

Public Participation How You Can Help

NOAA may designate new sanctuaries and implement their associated regulations only after a nominated site has gone through a separate, highly public process that may take several years to complete. For additional information on the National Marine Sanctuary Nomination Process, click here.

Members of the public, non-profit organizations, schools, small businesses, and others are encouraged to participate in these public meetings as they occur. Upcoming public meetings will be posted on this website as soon as dates are finalized.

Acknowledgements: Photos courtesy of Darryl Byrd and Mitch Zeissler.

Contact Information

Chesapeake & Coastal Service

Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Tawes State Office Building, E-2

580 Taylor Avenue

Annapolis, Maryland 21401

Phone 410-260-8789

Fax 410-260-8739