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Waters are open, so Get Into Your Sanctuary this weekend

Virtual events will explore National Marine Sanctuaries

Courtesy Photos Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Jeff Gray paddleboards on a calm day on Lake Huron. Paddleboarding is just one of the many recreational activities people can enjoy in the sanctuary.

ALPENA — The shipwreck museum may be closed, but the Great Lakes are still open. And the internet never sleeps, so hop online or in the water this weekend for the annual Get Into Your Sanctuary events.

“What’s cool about this is it’s across all of the Office of the National Marine Sanctuary sites,” said Stephanie Gandulla, who has been working from home since the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage center closed due to the pandemic.

She encourages everyone to virtually explore the sites, not only in our area, but throughout the National Marine Sanctuary system.

“It’s a really neat way to connect all of these special underwater places in our country,” said Gandulla, maritime archealogist and media coordinator for the GLMHC. “And all throughout the weekend, (today) through Sunday, you can experience all of the sites in all sorts of different ways.”

She said the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary will be doing presentations on Facebook Live, and other sanctuaries will have similar programs.

The above photo, taken by Phil Hartmeyer, shows the Ishpeming shipwreck in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Diving is another activity for which many people visit the sanctuary.

“Other sites are doing fishing demos, other sites are doing cooking seafood demos, scientific research programs, everybody’s doing something different,” Gandulla noted. “You could chime in or you could join all of them if you wanted.”

She said it’s the sixth year the system has done Get Into Your Sanctuary.

“It’s just a way to celebrate how accessible these places are, even though they are protected,” Gandulla explained. “This is how we protect them, and that’s engaging the public … The waters are open. It’s just that there are virtual ways to connect and get out there as well.”

There are 13 National Marine Sanctuaries, and two marine national monuments managed by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NOAA website states.

According to the NOAA website, oceanservice.noaa.gov, “National marine sanctuaries are special areas that protect important marine ecosystems around the nation. Some sanctuaries are breeding and feeding grounds for endangered whales, others contain thriving coral reefs or kelp forests, and many are home to historic shipwrecks and other archaeological treasures.”

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries manages a network of these sites, totaling more than 600,000 square miles of ocean and Great Lakes waters.

“The goal of the sanctuary system is to protect important natural and cultural places, while still allowing people to enjoy and use the ocean,” and Great Lakes, the website states.

“Our message has been the sanctuary offices and visitor centers are currently closed, but the waters remain open for responsible use in accordance with CDC and local guidelines,” Gandulla noted.

There are many ways to physically enjoy the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, such as diving, paddleboarding, fishing and kayaking.

“It’s kind of easier to maintain social distance if you’re paddling to a shipwreck than if you’re in a museum,” Gandulla added. “Fishing charters are running, dive charters are running … people are able to get out as long as they’re practicing that social distancing.”

In addition, the Lady Michigan glass bottom boat is set to go out on tours at 10 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday in Alpena, weather permitting. Reserve tickets online at thunderbayfriends.org. For more information, call 989-884-6200. Masks are required on the boat.

As for the virtual Get Into Your Sanctuary events, 24 opportunities await eager participants.

“Each sanctuary will put its unique spin on hosting the 24 virtual opportunities throughout the weekend,” a press release explained. “Whether taking an ocean safari, virtually diving among shipwrecks, or learning how to responsibly catch and prepare fish from a professional chef, there will be something for everyone to enjoy, explore and help plan a future trip to see a sanctuary.”

All of the events will be available through Facebook Live and Facebook Watch Party. To attend, visit NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Facebook page.

Programs include multiple presentations of the following: Explore the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary: Lionfish – From Reef Raiders to Tasty Treats; The Seabirds of Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary; Photographing the Seabirds of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary; Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary: Explore & Discover Sunken Legacies; Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument: Connection Through and to the Ocean; and Connecting Conservation and Culture with National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.

Gandulla said the programs are educational and many will appeal to both adults and children.

“The Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument is talking about marine debris and how that affects sanctuary resources, and also talks about how our everyday actions can affect — positively and negatively — the natural world.”

Gandulla added no official reopening date has been decided for the shipwreck museum yet. Many virtual presentations are posted at thunderbay.noaa.gov, with more to come.

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