2019 Sources of Knowledge Forum to Discuss Fathom Five Conservation Strategy

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in north-western Lake Huron covers 4300-square-miles.
Submitted by John Bainbridge

The Sources of Knowledge Forum on May 3 to 5 will focus on the Fathom Five National Marine Park. One of the presentations will look at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve. This underwater park is one of 14 marine parks under the United States Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS). It covers a huge area of Lake Huron on the eastern shore of Michigan (see photo below).
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is located in north-western Lake Huron, adjacent to one of the most treacherous stretches of water within the Great Lakes system which earned the area the name “Shipwreck Alley.” Today, the 4300-square-mile Marine Sanctuary protects one of the United States best-preserved and nationally-significant collections of shipwrecks. Approximately 100 wrecks of more than 200 believed to be at the bottom of Lake Huron have been discovered.
The Thunder Bay sanctuary originally covered 448m2 area of Lake Huron but in 2014 it underwent a tenfold expansion when it became both a national marine sanctuary and a state underwater preserve. A Joint Management Committee of state and federal officials manages the sanctuary but, like our own park, there is an advisory council representing the community’s interests.
The sanctuary works with university and federal scientists to develop long term monitoring programs to better understand how the chemical, biological, and physical conditions as well as aquatic invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels could potentially harm maritime heritage resources. Because people preserve what they value, and value what they understand, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary embraces education as a powerful resource preservation tool. That is an idea shared by the Sources of Knowledge that has, as one of its objectives, included the creation of a Learning Centre on the Saugeen Peninsula.
Like the Thunder Bay sanctuary in the US, Fathom Five Park was established in 1972 by the Province of Ontario to preserve the wrecks and promote the area as a diving destination. In 1987, Fathom Five was slightly enlarged and re-born as a National Marine Conservation Area. Covering an area of 114 km2 it became the first aquatic park to come under the stewardship of Parks Canada’s national marine conservation area program.
Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas are managed to protect and conserve representative marine ecosystems and key features, while ensuring the ecologically sustainable use of marine resources. They include the lake bed and water column above it and may also take in wetlands, estuaries, islands and other coastal lands.
Conservation areas are protected from such activities as dumping, mining, and oil and gas exploration and development. Traditional fishing activities are permitted but managed with the conservation of the ecosystem as the main goal. The areas are designed to:
-represent the diversity of … the Great Lakes environments
-maintain ecological processes and life support systems
-provide a model for sustainable use of marine species and ecosystems
-encourage marine research and ecological monitoring
-protect depleted, vulnerable, threatened or endangered marine species and their habitats
-provide for marine interpretation and recreation
Thus, in Fathom Five Park, the primary focus has shifted away from shipwrecks to conservation of the ecosystem as a whole. One key question, therefore, is whether the Marine Park is large enough to meet these objectives? Should it be expanded to encompass a much greater area as happened with the Thunder Bay Sanctuary? Is the conservation objective compatible with sinking vessels in the park to increase its appeal to divers? Do we need more ‘disposable’ islands such as Flower Pot Island to accommodate tourism? These and many other questions need discussion.
Accordingly, 32 years after the establishment of the National Marine Park, the Forum will focus on whether the expectations for the conservation area have been met. Parks Canada has established a Fathom Five Strategy Team headed by Sean Liipere, to create a renewed vision to guide the park management into the future. Sean will be hosting a public workshop on the last day of the Forum to seek the public’s views on the park’s future.
If you care about Fathom Five or have views about its future register for the Forum at: www.sourcesofknowledge.ca