National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and NOAA Announce Designation of Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary

Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary will become the 16th sanctuary in the National Marine Sanctuary System and the third in the Great Lakes 

Silver Spring, Md. – June 5, 2024 Today, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that 1,722 square miles of eastern Lake Ontario in the state of New York have been designated as a national marine sanctuary. This designation—which was made during Capitol Hill Ocean Week—recognizes the national significance of the area’s historical, archaeological, and cultural resources.  

“The designation of Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary ensures that this bustling, vibrant, and historic part of the state of New York will be recognized as one of the most iconic U.S. waters, alongside vast expanses of the Pacific, the vibrant deep of the Gulf of Mexico, the reefs of the Florida Keys,” said Joel Johnson, President and CEO, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation,” said Joel Johnson, President and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary. “I want to congratulate NOAA, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the State of New York, and especially the local counties and tribal communities in upstate New York for pursuing a decade of partnership in this designation. This announcement creates new opportunities for education on American and Tribal history, outdoor recreation and exploration for New Yorkers and for all Americans.”  

The designation advances President Biden’s America the Beautiful Initiative, which supports locally-led collaborative conservation efforts across the country with a goal to conserve and restore 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. 

A diverse coalition celebrated today’s announcement: 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: “Lake Ontario’s National Marine Sanctuary will send major waves throughout Upstate as the first-ever National Marine Sanctuary in New York waters. This designation will preserve Lake Ontario’s historic shipwrecks, boost tourism and protect our beautiful waterways for generations to come. From Niagara to Wayne to Oswego to Jefferson County, this designation will help our shoreline communities protect the beauty of this magnificent lake and drive interest on Lake Ontario’s rich history. I will always fight to increase economic, educational, and tourism opportunities for New York’s Great Lakes communities.”

Senator Kristen Gillibrand: “Lake Ontario has a rich maritime history, and the designation of this sanctuary will open the door to new opportunities in the region. I am proud to see NOAA recognizing eastern Lake Ontario’s maritime cultural history and designating it as New York’s first national marine sanctuary. This designation is monumental for New York, and I look forward to seeing the new research, educational, and tourism opportunities created for the region.

Congressman Joe Morelle (NY-25): “Rochester’s unique position along Lake Ontario is a critical economic and recreational asset. We must do everything in our power to protect this outstanding natural resource. This announcement of the first national marine sanctuary in New York waters will help do just that and ensure the resiliency of our Great Lakes for decades to come. I’m grateful to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation for their commitment to safeguarding our waterways, and I look forward to continuing our work together.”

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY-24): “The designation of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary will ensure long-term protection and proper management of our historic shipwrecks and maritime heritage sites in eastern Lake Ontario, off the coast of Oswego, Jefferson, Cayuga, and Wayne counties. This important designation will not only safeguard these valuable historic sites but also promote educational opportunities and support tourism in our community. The community is eager to have the necessary resources to protect these sites and continue educating future generations about our region’s rich maritime history.”

Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup: “The designation of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary is a remarkable investment and achievement for Oswego County. This designation solidifies our commitment to protect and increase awareness about our great lake and the wonders it has to offer. This designation will protect our collection of shipwrecks to further educate our community. This is a huge advancement to our community development, economic growth and tourism related activities in Oswego County. I am proud to accept this designation and look forward to the successful impacts it will have on our community,” said James Weatherup, Chairman of the Oswego County Legislature.

 Oswego County Administrator Philip Church: “This designation is the culmination of 10 years of enthusiastic work by innumerable people, including NOAA and state staff, public officials and civic organizations across four counties, and dedicated private citizens who volunteered countless hours to the pre-designation advisory council.  Now the truly rewarding effort begins as our local communities, in partnership with federal and state agencies, work to fulfill the educational, economic, research, and conservational potential of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary,” said Philip Church, Oswego County Administrator and chair of the sanctuary nomination task force.

Oswego Mayor Robert A. Corradino: “The designation of a portion of Lake Ontario as a marine sanctuary is a huge opportunity not only for our community but for the region and the entire state of New York. It will provide recognition of our area’s historical and cultural significance along with promoting the tourism and recreation aspects of the area. The residents’ of Oswego are looking forward to the development of the sanctuary and will enthusiastically welcome the people who will visit.”

Cayuga County Manager Steve Lynch: The announcement of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary designation brings exciting and unprecedented opportunities to the Lake Ontario communities that share its storied shoreline. Cayuga County joins our partner counties in celebrating the unique intersection of histories, cultures and people that will be showcased in this newest National Marine Sanctuary.

Jefferson County Administrator Bob Hagemann: “It has been an honor and a privilege to work side by side NOAA and so many passioned stakeholders over the past several years to help establish the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary.  With that exciting goal now on the immediate horizon, being able to preserve & experience the vast marine history below the waters of S.E. Lake Ontario for generations to come will have been successfully met!  The careful but steadfast networking and planning between various interest groups throughout our four-county waterfront region will have been accomplished.  As a direct result, the future of tourism, scientific research, K-12 & Higher education learning opportunities, business & economic growth, diving industry enhancement, recreation and developing additional maritime heritage programs in Jefferson County will be significantly enhanced in the years to come.”

Wayne County Administrator Rick House: “We’re one of just a few to get the designation. It gives us the opportunity to create more interest and get people to come to Wayne County, not only to explore the underwater vessels but to enjoy all that Wayne County has to offer. Beyond tourism, there is an educational component as well, with an opportunity to develop school curriculum related to Lake Ontario — from its role in commerce to the military, specifically battles between the Americans and the British during the War of 1812.”

Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 1,300 nmi2 (1,722 mi2) of eastern Lake Ontario waters and bottomlands adjacent to Jefferson, Wayne, Oswego, and Cayuga counties in the state of New York. The sanctuary area contains 41 known shipwrecks and one aircraft representing events spanning more than 200 years of our nation’s history.  

The eastern corridor is one of the most historically significant regions in the Great Lakes and the country, as it has been critical to maritime trade and transportation for centuries, beginning with the canoes and boats of early Indigenous peoples.  

Based on historical records, an additional 19 shipwrecks, three aircraft, and several other underwater archaeological sites may be located there. Over 1,000 years ago, the distinct cultural groups living along Lake Ontario had unified as the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Parts of the original homelands of the Onondaga Nation, Cayuga Nation, Seneca Nation, and Oneida Nation lie within the sanctuary’s boundaries.  

Lake Ontario also supplies drinking water to more than 10 million people, is the 12th freshwater lake in the world, and is 802 feet at its greatest depth. 

To learn more about the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary, click here.  


The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is the official non-profit partner of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Foundation directly supports America’s national marine sanctuaries through our mission to protect species, conserve ecosystems and preserve cultural and maritime heritage. We accomplish our mission through community stewardship and engagement programs, on-the-water conservation projects, public education and outreach programs, and scientific research and exploration. The Foundation fosters innovative projects that are solution-oriented, scalable and transferable, and develop strategic partnerships that promote the conservation and recovery of species and their habitats. Learn more at 


Contact: Chip Weiskotten 

Director of Strategic Communications