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Marine researchers work together to map the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

ALPENA, Mich. — The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 4,300 square miles of Lake Huron. It’s full of shipwrecks and wildlife, but only 16 percent of the lake bed has been surveyed and much of the mapping was done prior to 1950.

To find the best areas to map, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asked researchers of different studies for help. Marine Archaelogist with NOAA, Stephanie Gandulla says with everyone working together, research will be done more efficiently. “Whether you’re out there looking for shipwrecks, which is what we like to do here at the Marine Sanctuary, or whether you’re wanting to understand fish habitat at the bottom of the lake or even geological features, if we work together we can be more efficient about gathering that scientific information,” she said.

Twenty four local experts took part in identifying the best places to map. Each was given 200 virtual coins to place around the area to share where they thought they could do the most research.

Fisheries Research Biologist with the Michigan DNR, Dr. David Fielder was one of those experts invited to participate. He says they used their coins for locations where they do their annual lake trout survey. He also says it was important other researchers were involved so they could collaboratively find the best places to map. “Other participants had entirely different criteria, and I think that’s what they were looking for, a diversity of opinion and interests to see what overlapped and where there was no particular interest so that they knew where to allocate their resources,” he said.

Dr. Fielder is also hoping that this new mapping will help uncover the first missing ship of the Great Lakes, Le Griffon. “Well no ones found The Griffon yet,” he said. “That was the Great Lakes first shipwreck and there’s a chance that it’s in northern Lake Huron. So i’m banking on that. I hope they turn up Le Griffon. I think that would be wonderful.”

Whether or not they happen to find Le Griffon, there have been about 100 shipwrecks found in the sanctuary’s area, and there are estimated to be about 100 more.