Celebrate America’s Historic Ghost Fleet at Mallows Bay


Celebrate America’s Historic Ghost Fleet at Mallows Bay

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Celebrate America’s Historic Ghost Fleet at Mallows Bay-Potomac River

Located on the Potomac River near Washington D.C., Mallows Bay is the site of a diverse collection of nearly 200 historic shipwrecks dating back to the Revolutionary War and the remains of the largest assemblage of World War I wooden steamships known as the famed “Ghost Fleet.” These abandoned wrecks are now home to commercially and recreationally important species as well as numerous endangered and threatened wildlife, including bald eagles, osprey, river otters, beaver, and numerous fish species. The State of Maryland, with support from numerous and diverse community groups, submitted its nomination in 2014 through the sanctuary nomination process.

In 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed four alternative plans for the new national marine sanctuary at Mallows Bay-Potomac River and how it would be managed. The agency, in collaboration with local partners, developed these alternatives based upon the community-driven nomination and public feedback during the initial meetings.

The Foundation supports the preferred alternative (Alternative C) to preserve more than 100 historic shipwrecks and boost recreation, education, and tourism opportunities across a 52 square mile stretch of the Potomac River. Of the plans proposed by NOAA, Alternative C protects the highest concentration of vessels, including the entire World War I Ghost Fleet, as well as additional archeological sites and recreationally accessible shipwrecks that currently fall outside the boundaries and protections of the Mallows Bay Widewater Historical and Archeological National Register District. Without protection, these historic shipwrecks and habitat they provide are left vulnerable.  

Why Protecting Mallows Bay-Potomac River Matters

The shipwrecks in Mallows Bay-Potomac River are part of our history from the very founding of the nation to today. Just 40 miles south of our nation’s capitol, this site features a high concentration of shipwrecks that can be explored up close during Potomac River’s low tide. A national marine sanctuary can reconnect us with our storied past and honor this history.

This intertwining of national and natural history makes this area a popular spot for canoeing, kayaking, fishing, birdwatching and other outdoor recreation. The site lies along the Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and Potomac National Historic Trail. With strengthened and expanded protection, public access, education and research can bring the community sustainable tourism opportunities and economic benefits.

Where We Stand

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation stands with federal, state and local elected officials; Native Americans; historical societies; businesses; museums; and environmental, recreational, conservation, fishing, tourism and educational groups to urge designation of Mallows Bay-Potomac River as a national marine sanctuary.

The Foundation supports the community throughout the designation process. A 2016 Hollings Grant received by the Chesapeake Conservancy empowered our on-the-ground partner to rally their community and support public engagement in the designation. The Foundation is also actively working with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to develop baseline water quality monitoring at the site. On the Hill, the Foundation is engaging Members of Congress through briefings and constituent meetings that foster political leadership during the designation process.