The Benzonia shipwreck rests on the Caribou shipwreck's stern at Mallows Bay on the Potomac River in Maryland. Don Shomette/NOAA

NOAA Sanctuary will preserve Maryland shipwrecks

NOAA today officially designated its first new national marine sanctuary since 2000, aiming to preserve the remains of more than 100 World War I-era steamships and vessels on an 18-square-mile stretch of the Potomac River coast.

Capping more than five years of planning, NOAA gave final approval to the Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary in Maryland, protecting the historic shipwrecks and archaeological artifacts that scientists say are nearly 12,000 years old.

"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, NOAA's acting administrator.

Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said he was "thrilled by NOAA's announcement" and that the new sanctuary "will ensure that people from both Maryland and beyond will have the opportunity to experience this amazing site for years to come."

Officials are counting on the site to be a large tourist draw, located only 40 miles south of Washington, D.C., in Charles County, Md.

Mallows Bay is most well-known for its "Ghost Fleet," the remains of more than 100 steamships that were built in response to threats from German U-boats. They were never used during the war and were brought to the Potomac River, where they were to be salvaged for scrap metal.

Maryland nominated the site for designation in 2014.

The new sanctuary will join NOAA's network of underwater parks that encompass more than 600,000 square miles across the country. The network includes 13 national marine sanctuaries and the Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.

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