President Barack Obama named the first new national marine sanctuaries in 15 years today. Along with an 875-square mile portion of Lake Michigan, a local natural wonder made the cut: Mallows Bay.
Charles County, Md., and then-Gov. Martin O'Malley recommended the site be protected last year after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced its intent to name new sanctuaries for the first time since 2000. The county and partner organizations submitted more than 60 letters in support of the first marine sanctuary ever in the Chesapeake Bay region.
The 14-square mile area on the Potomac River, about forty miles south of Washington, is home to the largest "ghost fleet" in the country. Some 200 decrepit, wooden ships lurk in the water—the product of a misguided attempt during WWI to build a string of inexpensive vessels and send them out across the Atlantic faster than German U-boats could sink them.
Each one cost between $700,000 and $1 million to build, according to historian Don Shomette's fascinating "The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay." The vessels were about as delayed and poorly constructed as the Silver Spring Transit Center—except in wartime. By the time they starting setting sail, well, the war was over. Writes Shomette:
Mallows Bay is one of a few places in the Maryland portion of the Bay that I have not yet had the privilege to visit. By all report it is a remarkable place, including an astonishing place to fish for Large Mouth Bass and other recreational species. If Snakeheads aren't there yet, they'll be there soon (They are there). Currently it a park under Charles County, Maryland. It's not being abused at this point; it's very shallow, trash (literally) filled water, accessible only to very small boats and kayaks."On December 1, 1917 the first wooden bottom was launched into the Pacific. Yet, by October 1918 only 134 wooden steamships had been completed; another 263 were less than half finished. When Germany surrendered on November 11, none had crossed the Atlantic.
Congressional charges of ineptitude within the program soon followed. A Senate probe revealed that of the 731 wooden steamships contracted for, only 98 had been delivered. Of these, only 76 had carried cargo in trade. Charges flared that the vessels were badly designed, weakly constructed, poorly caulked, leaked excessively and were too small and expensive for long-distance cargo hauling."
So what will it's change to a Federal National Marine Sanctuary mean? I don't think we know much at this point. Certainly it would protect the rotting hulks from any attempt at salvaging them for metal scrap, which was attempted at some point.
But what about water access and fishing. A common, but not universal property of the Marine Sanctuaries is the banning of both recreational and commercial fishing. My guess is it won't happen at Mallows Bay. At least in the beginning. . .