Mallows Bay is a largely undeveloped area identified as one of the most ecologically valuable in Maryland, and on its way to becoming the first marine sanctuary in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a detailed description of the proposed Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary. NOAA’s proposed sanctuary regulations will focus only on the protection of the shipwrecks and associated maritime heritage resources. However, the structures provided by shipwrecks and related infrastructure serve as habitat for populations of recreational fisheries, bald eagles, and other marine species.
Situated on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, just east of Washington D.C. and west of Chesapeake Bay, the proposed sanctuary includes the largest shipwreck fleet in the Western Hemisphere. Mallows Bay has nearly 200 known historic shipwrecks dating back to the Civil War, as well as archaeological artifacts dating back 12,000 years, according to NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries.
Among the waters of Mallow Bay rest the derelict vessels of the “Ghost Fleet,” the U.S. Emergency Fleet built for World War I. Following the war, hundreds of the wooden steamships were sent to Mallows Bay to be scrapped—and the remains of dozens can still be seen in the shallow waters. The half-sunk and decomposing ships serve as habitat to populations of recreational fisheries, bald eagles, and other marine species. Frank Csulak, NOAA Scientific Support Coordinator with the Office of Response and Restoration based in New Jersey, wrote about his impressions of Mallows Bay during a kayaking tour in July 2016. The tour was an opportunity for NOAA and U.S. Coast Guard staff see firsthand how sensitive the environment is, and the risk a potential oil spill could pose to the site.
In 2014, Mallows Bay, including the derelict vessels, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Mallows Bay-Widewater Historical and Archaeological District. A community partnership committee was formed to draft the national marine sanctuary nomination when the nomination process was revitalized. The Mallows Bay nomination included support from nearly 150 organizations, agencies, and private citizens. The nomination to have the bay designated as the first National Marine Sanctuary in 20 years was announced by President Obama in 2015.
The period for public comments will remain open until about the end of March 2017.