Almost 900 square miles of Lake Michigan near Wisconsin have been added to an inventory of sites up for consideration as National Marine Sanctuaries.
The area contains 34 known shipwrecks and 122 reported vessel losses.
Fifteen of the shipwrecks are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The wrecks are interesting for themselves -- and also for their cargo.
"The ships have a high degree of integrity -- really well-preserved shipwrecks," said Ellen Brody of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The schooner SS Rouse Simmons, built in 1868, sank on November 23, 1912, along with its entire crew. It was carrying a load of Christmas trees, which divers report as still intact.
The Senator, a 4,408 ton steel barge built in 1898 in Wyandotte, Mich., sank on October 31, 1929, taking with it some of its crew and a load of 264 brand-new Nash automobiles.
John Broihahn, state archeologist at the Wisconsin Historical Society, said the wrecks are historically and culturally significant and "represent important components of the evolution of ships on the Great Lakes, the expansion of business interests in the area and the development of the Midwest."
NOAA will decide whether to designate the area as a National Marine Sanctuary. The process will likely take several years, said Brody. The area includes 80 miles of Wisconsin shoreline and extends 9 to 14 miles from the shore. Its southern boundary is 115 miles north of Chicago.
There currently is only one freshwater National Marine Sanctuary. It is the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena County.
-- Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom.