Mallows Bay marine sanctuary nomination approved:

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Mallows Bay in Nanjemoy is one step closer on a long journey toward nomination as a National Marine Sanctuary by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On the Potomac River, Mallows Bay is where hundreds of World War I-era surplus wooden boats were sunk for disposal. A variety of wildlife and plants call the boats home.  Mallows Bay would be the only National Marine Sanctuary in the Washington, D.C., region if approved for sanctuary status.

“The case is extremely strong for Mallows Bay,” said Samuel P. Orlando Jr., chief of the conservation science division of the Office of National Marine Sanctuary for NOAA.  Mallows Bay is the first successful nomination considered by NOAA since the nomination process closed approximately 20 years ago due to lack of community support to create nominations, Orlando said.  He said the nomination process does not contain a deadline date and each nomination is evaluated based on its merit, but Mallows Bay joined NOAA’s inventory in the fall as a successful nomination.  NOAA declined nominations for the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and Eubalaena Oculina of Florida, and still is considering a nomination for Lake Michigan.

The local support for Mallows Bay was encouraging and exciting for NOAA, Orlando said. NOAA received letters of support from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Charles County Chamber of Commerce, Conservancy for Charles County, College of Southern Maryland, the Historical Society of Charles County, Charles County Public Schools Superintendent Kimberly A. Hill and some Charles County residents.

Criteria considered for a successful nomination include four areas of national significance, such as a site’s natural resources and ecological qualities, submerged maritime heritage resources, opportunities for public recreation, and present and potential economic uses. Nominations also are considered based on seven areas of management criteria, including the site’s potential for marine research and educational opportunities, conservation value and community-based support, according to NOAA’s website.

“[Support for Mallows Bay] is typical of what we would expect to see from future nominations,” Orlando said.  Mallows Bay also was selected for NOAA’s inventory based on its “heritage-based resource,” recreational access and educational opportunities.  Orlando said members of NOAA’s nominations committee are excited about the dialogue of considering the nomination of Mallows Bay as a National Marine Sanctuary.

Tom Roland, chief of parks and grounds for the Charles County Department of Public Works, said the land known as Mallows Bay was acquired in 2002 by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and three land trust groups. Work has since been done to protect its shoreline area, and community efforts began in 2008 to contact NOAA and obtain national recognition for the site.  Roland said he could not say anyone was thinking of marine sanctuary status in 2008, “but it’s certainly a tremendous fit and a step forward.”

Roland said marine sanctuary status could open up future opportunities for Mallows Bay — which is now a county park with recreational access for county residents — such as plans to expand inland hiking trails….

Roland said the Charles County commissioners have endorsed to county staff the possibility of Mallows Bay obtaining marine sanctuary status and “are extremely excited” for the opportunity, which would bring not only county residents more opportunities, but also residents in the Chesapeake Bay area.

The sanctuary system began in 1962. The first sanctuary was the USS Monitor, a Civil War ironclad ship sunk off the coast of North Carolina. NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary list contains 14 sites in the U.S., and includes 47 vessels, seven visitor centers, eight major exhibits, 14 field sites, four regional offices and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

….When the U.S. Navy sunk a fleet of ships more than 100 years ago,  (Commissioner Vice President Ken) Robinson said it probably had no idea that history would be preserved and the fleet would create a reef for aquatic life.  “It’s been a win-win situation because we likely otherwise would not have” Mallows Bay, Robinson said.  Mallows Bay is the only site so far chosen by NOAA to move forward in the nomination process and the “only one likely to receive it in the next two years or so,” Robinson said….National Marine Sanctuary status by NOAA would mean Mallows Bay “will always be here” and be protected.

 Rebecca J. Barnabi Staff Writer

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