Chesapeake & Coastal Service
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Tawes State Office Building, E2
580 Taylor Avenue
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
Located on the Potomac River only 30 miles downstream from our nation’s capital, Mallows Bay is renowned for its diverse collection of historic shipwrecks, recreational opportunities and scenic beauty. Through a community-based effort, this Maryland treasure in Charles County may become the first national marine sanctuary in the state of Maryland and the first new designation in more than two decades.
This shallow embayment and the waters nearby are home to nearly 200 historic shipwrecks dating from the Revolutionary War through the present, known as the “Ghost Fleet” of Mallows Bay. On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson issued a national call to arms against Imperial Germany. What followed in the United States was a frenzied effort to build 1,000 wooden merchant ships in 18 months, as part of the greatest shipbuilding campaign in history. Today, the largest extant remnants of that fleet, over 130 wooden and composite steamships built during and immediately after the war, representing the product of dozens of shipyards across the nation, still rests on the shallow floor of the Potomac River at and near Mallows Bay.
Also contained within this region are the physical remnants of one of the most unique industrial ship-breaking undertakings in American history, and nineteenth century commercial fisheries operations, as well as Native-American, colonial, and Civil War terrestrial sites. Due to the area’s historical significance, the Mallows Bay – Widewater Historic and Archeological District was listed on the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places in April 2015.
In June 2014 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the American public could again, for the first time since 2000, nominate nationally significant marine and Great Lakes areas as potential new national marine sanctuaries. Due to its historic national significance, unique ecosystems, and abundant recreational opportunities, on September 16, 2014, the State of Maryland, along with over 60 supporting organizations, submitted a nomination to NOAA recommending consideration of an 18 square mile area of the Potomac River for designation.
On October 5, 2015, NOAA issued a Notice of Intent to consider the designation of the Mallows Bay Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary. NOAA held two public meetings in November 2015 to solicit public comments, concerns, and visions for the proposed sanctuary. Additional comments were submitted online through January 15, 2016.
Throughout 2016, the Department participated on an inter-governmental committee to prepare draft designation documents, including a draft management plan, draft environmental impact statement, proposed regulations and proposed boundaries for the sanctuary. Comments on the draft documents were solicited online and through two public meetings in March 2017. Since then, the committee has been working to incorporate recommendations and finalize the designation documents before submitting to NOAA for final designation. If designated, the federal government, state of Maryland and Charles County will manage the sanctuary jointly.
Upon designation, Mallows Bay will join an existing network of 14 sites from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Atlantic coast through the far-Pacific. Click here for National Marine Sanctuary FAQs.
Photos clockwise from top left, courtesy of Duke University Marine Robotics & Remote Sensing Program, Jim D'Intino, Don Shomette and Paula Schiller.
Mallows Bay ship wreck in sidebar, courtesy of Jim D'Intino
"We believe that the designation of this section of the Potomac River as a National Marine Sanctuary offers a tremendous opportunity to not only promote world-class recreational fishing, boating, and tourism, but to also advance our efforts to protect and restore the Chesapeake watershed and to educate the public about our nation’s maritime and cultural history.” – Secretary Mark Belton, Department of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Ave, Annapolis MD 21401