Photo courtesy of Jeremy Bannister Photography

There's no need to get wet to dive into the Great Lakes rich maritime history. 

Because cold fresh waters have slowed the decay of wood and metal shipwrecks, there is a rich and intriguing history preserved at the bottom of the lakes.

An effort is underway locally to shed more light on Lake Erie's nautical past in Pennsylvania. And it all began when another shipwreck was discovered on Presque Isle (PI) in June of 2014.

PI Lifeguard Darren Redding contacted Pennsylvania Sea Grant (Pennsylvania Sea Grant) when he found something unusual during his morning swim that day. David Boughton Pennsylvania Sea Grant maritime education specialist hurried to deploy an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) to take a better look and he quickly recognized two crossed Admiralty Pattern Anchors and an old shipwreck debris field.

With permission from the Park Superintendent to SCUBA survey the wreck site, its specific location was determined. A quick historical search found three to five ships had "run for shore" between 1850 and 1912 and had beached on Presque Isle. This wreck had been buried in the sand for approximately 140 years.

Because Pennsylvania did not have an official group that focused on PA waters, Boughton pitched Regional Science Consortium Director Jeanette Schnars the idea of forming a group of specialists to do just that. Schnars and Boughton submitted a grant application to the Pennsylvania Coastal Resources Management Program (PACRMP) that would support their Marine Spatial Survey to develop a data bank of submerged structures and bottom characteristics. Funding from PACRMP allowed them to form the Pennsylvania Archeology Shipwreck and Survey Team (PASST).

The goal and mission of PASST is to identify, survey and document all shipwrecks in PA waters as well as create a website (not yet live), develop education programs, provide dive instruction and ethical practices and encourage people to appreciate the Maritime History of our region.

Schnars and Boughton assembled a team of specialists including SCUBA divers trained in underwater survey, historians/researchers, marine archaeologists, technicians, educators and marine operation teams. Dr. Ben Ford, a recognized Marine Archaeologist from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is overseeing the surveys with an emphasis on discovery and preservation. A conservation lab at the Ridge Center has been created to do preservation and a specialized dive team was trained to collect data.

Since 2014 they have been documenting the 132 known shipwrecks in the quadrangle between Ohio, New York and the Canadian border and completing surveys of three PA underwater wreck sites and two beach wreck sites.

PASST has collaborated with the Erie Maritime Museum, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, PACRMP, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, and Divers World.

From Feb. 1 through April 25 the Tom Ridge Environmental Center will host a "Great Lakes Shipwrecks" exhibit on the second floor gallery. On Saturday Feb. 6 and March 5 historians and archeologists will be on hand to identify and document artifacts and stories for "Living History" and Show and Tell" programs. Boughton is encouraging people to contact him at (814) 720-0746 or if they have a related story or artifacts that have washed up on the beach or been passed down in the family.

To participate in shipwreck educational activities contact Beth McLaughlin, (814) 833-6050 or

Learn more by reading this week's NIE page on PASST.

Written by Anna McCartney 




Main Office: Tom Ridge Environmental Center 301 Peninsula Dr., Suite 3 Erie, PA 16505 814-217-9011