President Barack Obama announced today that Mallows Bay on the Potomac River has been identified by NOAA as one of two sites that may become new National Marine Sanctuaries. If awarded sanctuary status, Mallows Bay will be the first National Marine Sanctuary in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and one of the first new national sanctuaries in the nation in nearly 20 years. An 875 square-mile area of Lake Michigan is also being considered for the designation.

Mallows Bay lies south of Washington, DC, along the Maryland shore of the Potomac River in Charles County. The 14 square-mile area of the river contains the remains of nearly 200 vessels that date from the Revolutionary War through the 20th century. The largest collection of World War I wooden steamships built for the U.S. Emergency Fleet are at rest in Mallows Bay, dubbed “the Ghost Fleet” and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The setting also provides habitat for a wide range of fish and wildlife, including mini-ecosystems that have developed on and around the shipwrecks. It’s become a popular place to fish, paddle, and explore.

“Mallows Bay has the largest collection of historic shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere and they are full of wildlife. What makes it even cooler is that you can kayak around and view the shipwrecks at low tide,” said Joel Dunn, president of the Chesapeake Conservancy .

The Chesapeake Conservancy is among many nonprofit organizations and community groups that support the nomination, hoping that a well-managed sanctuary will not only protect the resources but encourage more people to enjoy the area and appreciate its story.

Along with its ship-related history, the shores of Mallows Bay were once home to Piscataway Indians and later became the site of a shad and herring fishery.
“Mallows Bay is a veritable time capsule, a unique sanctuary of history embedded in nature, a living laboratory for all the ages to come,” said Donald Shomette, author of The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay.

Mallows Bay was nominated as a National Marine Sanctuary in September of 2014. The proposal has passed the initial screening process and moves forward for public comment. NOAA will then develop a draft environmental impact statement, draft management plan and potential regulations for the site, which will be available for public comment. After gathering feedback, NOAA will make a decision on the sanctuary nomination.

NOAA is hosting two public meetings in Maryland to discuss the Mallows Bay proposal:

  • Nov. 4, 6:30 – 9:00 p.m. in La Plata at the Charles County Government Building Auditorium, 200 Baltimore St., La Plata, MD.
  • Nov. 10, 6:30 – 9:00 p.m. in Annapolis at the Annapolis Maritime Museum, 723 Second St., Annapolis, MD.

Comments can also be submitted until January 15 through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, (use the Mallows Bay docket number NOAA-NOS-2015-0111) or by mailing written comments to:

Paul Orlando, Chesapeake Bay Regional Coordinator
ONMS Northeast and Great Lakes Region
c/o NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office
410 Severn Ave, Suite 207-A
Annapolis, MD 21403

More information on the two proposed sites can be found at