For history buffs and adventure seekers alike, recent finds like this haven’t disappointed. Mysteries, like the sinking of the German U-boat U-166 off the coast of Louisiana, are centers of discovery. The U.S. Navy initially doubted that Capt. Herbert G. Claudius actually sank the enemy submarine, but later research revealed that he was, in fact, responsible for the act — making him a hero. This shipwreck remained hidden until 2001 until an oil company found it, according to National Geographic. It is now protected as a war grave.
Other once-concealed secrets are especially prized by organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The organization’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries manages a network of 14 marine protected areas that encompass more than 170,000 square miles of waters. Protected areas include special preservation sites of Civil War shipwrecks and expansive coral reefs.
There is even a law called the National Marine Sanctuaries Act established to authorize the Secretary of Commerce to designate and protect marine environments with special national significance. One is Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary in Michigan. Located in northwestern Lake Huron, Thunder Bay is also known as “Shipwreck Alley” for its reputation within the Great Lakes as having treacherous waters with unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales and rocky shoals.
The natural marine environment and human touch can also threaten the long-term preservation of these archeological sites. Lake Huron’s freshwater keeps the shipwrecks in Thunder Bay as some of the best-preserved sites in the world. Some of the sites have remained virtually unchanged for over 150 years. However, shipwrecks submerged in saltwater can deteriorate quickly. Coastwatch, a North Carolina Sea Great magazine, says that salt water creates a highly corrosive environment that causes metal to oxidize or rusts.
Weather conditions and the water’s natural inhabitants can also contribute to damaging the wrecks. According to NOAA, waves and aquatic invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels could harm the heritage resources. In addition to preservation work, the U.S. is working to recreate a healthy ecosystem for underwater life. Cities like New York have retired old subway cars to the ocean floor to become engulfed by sea grass and walled with blue mussels and sponges. Many decommissioned aircrafts, tanks, and ships have also been towed into waters to form artificial reefs and attract fish for sport fishing.
Check out some of the shipwrecks mentioned and others located throughout the world.