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Energy & Environment

Commemorating Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary

3 minute read

Today, Administration officials, Members of Congress, the State of Maryland, and local officials came together to commemorate the first National Marine Sanctuary designation since 2000. Over 100 wooden steamships and shipwrecks, some dating back to the Civil War, sit above and below the surface of the Potomac River about 40 miles south of Washington, DC, at the Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary.

After years of hard work from dedicated Federal, State, and local officials, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) formally designated the 18 square mile stretch of Mallows Bay Sanctuary on September 3, 2019.  Through this designation, NOAA will provide additional protection of the cultural heritage resources of this unique site that is rich in maritime history, archaeological, and ecological resources.  NOAA’s designation will also expand the region’s blue economy by increasing public access for tourism and recreation activities, fostering education, and furthering research partnerships.  The designation also protects traditional fishing activities in the area, important for commercial, recreational, and subsistence purposes.

The majority of the shipwrecks, commonly referred to as the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay, were built as part of America’s mobilization efforts during World War I. While the war ended before the ships saw action, their construction at 40 shipyards across 17 states reflected a national undertaking for the maritime services industry. Over time, the ships were salvaged for scrap metal, and the remnants of the Ghost Fleet found a final resting place in Mallows Bay.

The archaeological and cultural resources of the site date back from the American Indian presence approximately 12,000 years ago to the Revolutionary, Civil, and two World Wars, as well as the once booming fishing industry on the Potomac River.  Today, nature is reclaiming the shipwrecks. The shipwrecks provide complex habitat that form unique islands of vegetation that sustain a variety of flora and fauna, including marine life, beaver, and osprey.

Visitors can explore Mallows Bay Sanctuary in several ways. You can schedule a tour to kayak and explore the Ghost Fleet and other historic vessels in the area. The area is also a popular destination for recreational fishermen, boasts a hiking trail, and provides ample opportunities for bird watching, and in fact, several bald eagles call the area home.

President Trump and his Administration recognize that through conservation and stewardship of our public lands, water resources, habitats, and species, we can work to preserve and protect multi-use conservation areas like the Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary for current and future generations of Americans to enjoy.