Charles County’s “Ghost Fleet” Now a National Marine Sanctuary

A Charles County press release (2019-07-08) announced that the County, the State of Maryland, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have designated a national marine sanctuary to protect the remains of a “ghost fleet” of more than 100 abandoned World War I vessels. The Mallow Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary will be located in the Potomac River between Charles County and Stafford County, Virginia, about 40 miles south of Washington, DC.

Mallows Bay will be the first national marine sanctuary since 2000. Maryland nominated the area for sanctuary designation in 2014.

Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary (Source: NOAA)

From the press release:

The designation of Mallows Bay as a national marine sanctuary is an exciting milestone for NOAA and an opportunity for the public to celebrate and help protect this piece of our nation’s rich maritime history,” said Neil Jacobs, Ph.D., acting NOAA administrator. “We look forward to working with the state of Maryland, Charles County and other local partners to foster education and research partnerships as well as support and enhance local recreation and tourism along this historic stretch of the Potomac River.” …

“We are thrilled by NOAA’s announcement of the Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary designation,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. ”Preserving our history, heritage, and natural resources have always been a priority for our administration and designating this national treasure as a marine sanctuary is yet another example of our stewardship; and will ensure that people from both Maryland and beyond will have the opportunity to experience this amazing site for years to come.”

Located along an 18-square mile stretch of Potomac River coast in Charles County, Maryland, the new sanctuary boasts a collection of historic shipwrecks dating back to the Civil War, as well as archaeological artifacts nearly 12,000 years old. Its culturally rich landscape also includes sites that represent the history of Native American communities in the area, the once-booming Potomac River fishing industry and the Civil War.

“We are pleased to work with our state and federal partners to highlight one of the county’s national treasures that tells an important historical story,” said Charles County Commissioner President Reuben B. Collins, II, Esq. “I am proud we are taking these next steps to preserve the beauty of Mallows Bay and highlight this attraction for our residents and visitors worldwide.”

Mallows Bay is most renowned for its “Ghost Fleet,” the partially submerged remains of more than 100 wooden steamships that were built in response to threats from World War I-era German U-boats that were sinking ships in the Atlantic. Although the ships never saw action during the war, their construction at more than 40 shipyards in 17 states reflected the massive national wartime effort that drove the expansion and economic development of waterfront communities and maritime service industries. The fleet was brought to the Potomac River to be salvaged for scrap metal by a company in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from the sanctuary site. …

NOAA, the State of Maryland, and Charles County will manage the national marine sanctuary jointly. NOAA’s sanctuary management actions primarily will be focused on protecting the Ghost Fleet and related maritime heritage resources. Authorities related to natural resources and their management will remain with Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, a multi-state agency.

Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet (Source: Charles County Government)

Useful Links

Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary Webpage

Washington Post Associated Press Article on Mallows Bay (2019-07-09)

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