Michigan is the 22nd largest state if you consider only the land within its borders that is above water. But if you add its submerged lands, it’s the 11th largest. Much of the approximately 40,000 square miles of Michigan under water consists of Great Lakes submerged lands, which belong to the public and are managed by the state as trustee.
A 1980 state law authorizes the creation of underwater preserves in these submerged lands. Michigan’s thirteen underwater preserves include approximately 7,200 square miles of Great Lakes bottomland – an area larger than the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. The underwater preserves protect some of the region’s most sensitive underwater resources.
The legislation imposes stiff penalties for disturbing shipwrecks and their artifacts. It is a felony to remove or disturb artifacts in Michigan’s Great Lakes.
Divers were a principal force in the drafting of the 1980 law and today provide voluntary support to the preserve system. Supporters of the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve are becoming active in exploring and mapping the 295-square mile preserve. We interviewed Chris Doyal, president of the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve Council, Inc., to find out what the group is up to.
How large is the group and how diverse the backgrounds?
We are currently in the process of reforming. The preserve was essentially defunct for a few years. We have reformed and now have a board of directors comprised of six people. All of our board members are local divers.
How did you personally get involved?
I was contacted soon after the preserve was formed in 2007. My expertise is in underwater photography, and I was asked to photograph the shipwrecks.
How can someone join?
We currently aren’t a group that has an official membership. We may head that direction in the future. People usually approach us to share additional historical information about the various sites within the preserve. Local knowledge is the best.
Is there a newsletter/regular email?
What are some of the more noteworthy discoveries the GTBUP group has made?
Our primary goal has been to do an inventory of the known shipwrecks within the preserve. If we come across something new, that’s great. But we still have a lot of work to do documenting the known sites. We’re currently working with the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum to locate and document shipwrecks around Northport.
What is your partnership with MDNR/MDEQ like?
Since we don’t excavate or disturb sites in any way, we’ve not had any contact with them. However, we are looking into the possibility of installing buoys on some of the sites and that will likely need their support.
In addition to shipwrecks, are their environmental or aboriginal features of interest?
Absolutely. There are many important historical sites within the preserve. For example, Rev. Peter Dougherty’s pier remains are still easily seen from a boat. This was constructed around 1839. There are also several native American settlements within the preserve.
What is the preserve’s greatest need — e.g., awareness, funding, legislation & policy, protection?
It’s really too soon to tell what our needs will be. The restructured preserve is still in the process of defining its focus for the future.
Do you think people respect that these submerged lands are owned by the public?
Yes, but more education is always needed. The lands are managed by the state but owned by all of us. People really need to know how fragile these sites are.
“Look but don’t touch” certainly applies here.
Whom should interested readers contact?
The contact section on the website is the best way to connect with us.