Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay: Treasures under the “Sweet Sea”

Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay: Treasures under the “Sweet Sea”
January 24, 2018 Mary Ellen Geist
Photo courtesy of Giggy via wikimedia

Ipperwash Beach, Lake Huron, courtesy of Giggy

Lake Huron is often called “The Forgotten Great Lake.” Few people know that French explorers in 1615 called Lake Huron “la mer douce” which means “the sweet sea.” Some people who live beyond the Great Lakes Basin don’t even realize it connects with Lake Michigan in the Straits of Mackinac and that it shares its coast with Canada and Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsula.

Though its scenic sunsets make up a large part of the lake’s identity, parts of Lake Huron along Michigan’s East Coast got a bad rap for industrial waste and other problems starting in the 1960’s. But massive clean-ups, with help from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other sources, have improved Lake Huron’s condition, and its image is improving.

Photo courtesy of NOAA-Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Jefferson Gray, Superintendent, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary , courtesy of NOAA-Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Hidden among its many treasures is a place called Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Northeast Michigan near Alpena in an area that was nicknamed “Shipwreck Alley” in the 1800’s due to its heavy fog and rocky shoals.  Superintendent of the Sanctuary Jefferson Gray tells Great Lakes Now it’s the only freshwater National Marine Sanctuary in the U.S.  More than 200 shipwrecks are believed to be hidden in its waters, where scientists, students, divers, paddle boarders, kayakers and canoers visit to marvel at the secrets under the surface of this surprising coastline.

He told us the sanctuary is a 4300 square mile marine protected area on Lake Huron, part of a sanctuary system that stretches from American Samoa to San Francisco to Hawaii; to the Florida Keys to the California Coast to the Great Lakes. Gray says, “What makes Thunder Bay special is its incredible collection of shipwrecks – more than 200 historic shipwrecks preserved by the fresh cold water of Lake Huron. “

Photo courtesy of NOAA-Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Defiance profile, courtesy of NOAA-Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Gray says they are the “best preserved shipwrecks in the world. It helps us understand how the Great Lakes have changed.”

Gray says “hidden below the waves of the Great Lakes are secrets about the way this area was developed. We can recreate but learn about the past at the same time.”

Gray not only oversees the visitors center but also involves local students in learning about underwater technology and exploration. The center has recently become involved in documentaries due to the wealth of material from the sunken treasures and shipwrecks.

This week is the 2018 Thunder Bay International Film Festival which will feature many films about water and the Great Lakes, including Detroit Public TV’s One Detroit and Great Lakes Now’s  Toxic Town: Michigan’s Most Polluted Zip Code by DPTV filmmaker Bill Kubota. The film will screen this Saturday, January 27 at 1:00pm in the theater at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.

1 Comment

  1. Guy 6 years ago

    scenic sunrises….

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