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Mallows-Potomac National Marine Sanctuary

Some Success!  
On July 8, 2019, after a very long process, NOAA has designated an 18-square mile stretch of Maryland’s Potomac River Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary. This is the first national marine sanctuary designated since 2000 and protects the remnants of 118 World War I - era wooden steamships and vessels as well as other significant maritime heritage resources 

The process for the 1st National Marine Sanctuary in the Chesapeake Bay
In March 2017, public comment on the  proposed "rules" and draft Environmental Impact Statement closed.

MWS commented on the advantages of Alternative D (2 MB pdf).

During the scoping process for the sanctuary, there was strong support for a sanctuary larger than the original nomination. The original nomination is called Alternative B in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement or "DEIS." (Alternative A is no sanctuary at all).  NOAA has i
dentified Alternative C as its "preferred alternative." This alternative is considerably larger than the original nomination, yet lacks any sub-estuaries. Alternative D adds many more opportunities for recreation, education, tourism, and research which are specific goals of a National Marine Sanctuary.

Note: the proposed sanctuary encourages fishing. It applies no restrictions on commercial fishing, nor on fossil hunting. 

Mallows-Potomac proposed National Marine Sanctuary

The system of National Marine Sanctuaries presently comprises 13 sanctuaries and a national monument ranging in size from one to thousands of square miles. The sanctuaries are administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in partnership with local, state, and nonprofit agencies. 

The Mallows Bay-Potomac River sanctuary is centered on the  largest ship-wreck fleet in the western hemisphere, the "Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay." As a result of public comments during the scoping process completed in 2016, NOAA is presenting three alternative sizes for the sanctuary (B, C, and D, mapped above).

Maximizing opportunities

A large number of groups and individuals have recommended a sanctuary like Alternative D because it would greatly enhance the sanctuary's goals of promoting recreation, education, research, and tourism.  The map below compares Alternative C (yellow dashed line) with Alternative D (blue dashed line). Included in "D" are the valued and calm sub-estuaries of Mattawoman Creek, Nanjemoy Creek, and the Port Tobacco River. These estuaries and the intervening section of the tidal Potomac River figure prominently in the Nationwide Rivers Inventory “judged to be of more than local or regional significance" by the National Park Service.

If designated, Alternative D would still be only the 4th smallest of all sanctuaries. But as outlined below, and detailed here, it would include many remarkable opportunities for tourism, research, education, and recreation.

Map comparing Alternative D (blue dashed boundary) with Alternative C (yellow dashed).

Learn more from NOAA on the proposed Mallows-Potomac National Marine Sanctuary

Learn more from Maryland's Dept. of Natural Resources

Learn more detail about what's included in Alternative D.

Alternative D adds many features

By including the three major sub-estuaries of Mattawoman and Nanjemoy Creeks and the Port Tobacco River, "D" greatly enriches the sanctuary:

Ecologically it adds globally uncommon freshwater tidal marshes, fish nurseries, and a broader range of salinity. Hence it's value as a Sentinel Site soars.

It adds seven additional access points in safe protected waters. Not only does this afford opportunities for tourism and educational activities, but it also alleviates possible crowding and overuse of the Mallows Bay site itself. 
Maritime and cultural heritage is also enhanced with
verified Native American occupation sites, two likely landing locations of Captain John Smith, about 18 additional shipwreck sites dating to the 1700's, seven "lost fisheries" (including a caviar facility), two civil-war shore batteries, and the escape route of John Wilkes Booth.

Finally, by encompassing Indian Head, it affords possibilities for the town's revitalization as a trail destination town and location of a sanctuary headquarters.

Opportunities for education, tourism, recreation & benefits for town of Indian Head


-Leverages and supports ongoing programs such as outdoor education at Chapman State Park and the Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Center.

-Expands the range of habitats and ecological regimes, including nearly the full wintering range of the endangered Shortnose Sturgeon.

-Adds access points to reliably safe and quiet waters in sub-estuaries for long-scheduled field trips.

Marine heritage & nature tourism

-Alternative D adds about 18 sites where ships are known to have sunk, dating back to the 1700's.

-Includes areas of operation of the 1st ‘aircraft
carrier’ that launched spy balloons in the Civil War from a barge near Mattawoman Creek.

-Supports the revitalization of Indian Head through tourism, including a visitor center, which would also relieve rural Mallows Bay of crowding pressure.

-Water trails: more extensive use of the John Smith Trail; Potomac Heritage Trail; Star Spangled Banner Trail.

-Land trails: more extensive range for the Religious Freedom Byway and bicycle-touring route on Route 224. Adds the John Wilkes Booth land & water escape route.

-Adds extensive tidal-freshwater marshes. These include Mattawoman's ‘breadbasket marshes’ once employed by Native Americans and the only site on the western shore with a natural  population of American Lotus.

-Adds three state parks, a county park, a town park, Mattawoman Wildands, and three Wildlife Management Areas connecting to water. 

-Adds sites of historical fisheries, including the Shad and River Herring at Chapman Point (Chapman State Park) and a caviar fishery at Glymont.

Research (see also right-hand column)

-Adds baseline fisheries research, esp. for Mattawoman and in the Potomac via seine surveys.
-Adds year-round tidal freshwater where many migratory marine fish species spawn.

-Hotspot for spawning by striped bass and other migratory-fish.

-Ideal sentinel site (see column to right).

An ideal Sentinel Site


From the NOAA website:

“National marine sanctuaries are where monitoring and research take place to enhance our understanding of natural and historical resources and how they are changing… In that sense they are what we call 'sentinel sites' and are focal points for both the scientific and resource management communities.”

Alternative D would enhance the sanctuary’s value as a sentinel research site because it would then  include much more brackish "mesohaline" water, and would add year-round tidal freshwater (see map above). This transition is ecologically rich, esp. the globally uncommon tidal freshwater. Here striped bass produce the 2nd highest number of eggs in the Chesapeake Bay, of national significance considering the Bay produces up to 90% of the Atlantic Ocean's striped bass.

Other important marine species like Alewife
Herring also spawn here (map to right), and the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon has been detected near Mattawoman Creek & Chapman State Park.

Further, sub-watersheds range from Nanjemoy’s forested “reference” to Mattawoman’s, where warning signs of urbanization are seen as a faltering of its famous anadromous fish nursery.

The sanctuary would be uniquely suited to monitor ecosystem response to shifts in brackish boundaries and marsh flooding expected with sea-level rise. See darker blue areas in map below copied from the MERLIN mapping app.